Putting the Blindfolds on Driverless Panopticons

By Alastair Pearson

Autonomous vehicle (AV) deployment will radically reshape the relationship between Americans and their cars. A society which has long prized private car ownership will see riders transition to dramatically cheaper robotaxi services. Cities will regulate AVs in real time, using a sophisticated new regulatory technology called Mobility Data Specification (MDS). The widespread use of AVs owned by impersonal operators and regulated by municipal governments will bring to the fore privacy questions which were more easily ignored when cities were using MDS to regulate more niche modes of transportation like e-scooters. Mass adoption of AVs will elevate the stakes of Fourth Amendment concerns about the collection and analysis of anonymous geolocation data.

This Note aims to answer the important question of whether commercially deployed AVs can constitutionally be subjected to regulatory programs that mirror MDS as currently applied to the regulation of e-scooters. Robust scholarship is emerging about the scope of the concept of inescapability, first introduced in Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court’s most meaningful effort to erect guardrails around location data. Scholars are also exploring how the third-party doctrine undermines Fourth Amendment values, and the breadth of modern administrative search doctrine. This Note builds on these critiques and proposals to argue that the Fourth Amendment will impose limits on cities seeking to track real-time location data from AVs. AVs are likely to become inescapable, and the data collected from the public will be uniquely sensitive. If cities want the power to demand real-time data from AVs, they will need to rigorously justify their collection of such data and take concrete steps to anonymize it.

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