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Article posted Nov 07 2010, 5:05 PM Category: Resistance Source: ACLU.org Print

Federal Judge Finds Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking Unconstitutional

by Catherine Crump, Speech, Privacy and Technology Project

In August, we blogged about a court decision from the federal court in the Eastern District of New York that held that law enforcement agents are constitutionally obligated to get a warrant based on probable cause before obtaining historical cell phone location information. And in September, we wrote about an opinion from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals holding that judges may order the government to get a warrant based on probable cause for historical cell phone location information. However, the 3rd Circuit also held that judges are not obligated to require probable cause, and cautioned that they should only require the government to meet this high standard on rare occasions. Now another court has joined the fray. In a detailed opinion (PDF) citing documents obtained through litigation by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation, Judge Stephen Smith of the Southern District of Texas held that “warrantless disclosure of cell site data violates the Fourth Amendment.”

A few aspects of the opinion (PDF) are worth noting:
  • The government’s application appears to request historical location information for whenever the phone was turned on, not just when calls were made. According to Judge Smith, “the Government seeks continuous location data to track the target phone over a two month period, whether the phone was in active use or not.” This is notable because the cell tracking applications we have seen previously only sought location information for those moments when an individual actually made a phone call. The government is now asking for a great deal more information, and consequently its requests are now more invasive than we previously thought.
  • Cell phone tracking information is increasingly accurate. The opinion devotes many pages to explaining the ways in which cell tracking information has grown more accurate over time. In fact, it is because of these “refinements in location-based technology” that Judge Smith concludes that requests for cell tracking information trigger the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
  • The Fourth Amendment requires the government to get a warrant and show probable cause to obtain historical cell tracking information. The court reached this conclusion both because cell tracking reveals information about constitutionally protected spaces such as the home, and because the prolonged nature of such surveillance is very invasive. The court likened the records sought by the government to “a continuous reality TV show, exposing two months’ worth of a person’s movements, activities, and associations in relentless detail.”
As we have explained elsewhere, the ACLU agrees with Judge Smith that the government should be required to obtain a warrant and show probable cause before obtaining cell tracking information. As powerful new technologies enhance the ability of government agents to track our every move, it becomes all the more important that the courts hold the government to a rigorous standard before the government can access such sensitive information.





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Comments 1 - 3 of 3 Add Comment Page 1 of 1
globalstomp

Posted: Nov 08 2010, 5:20 PM

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Isn't it obvious they have trashed the constitution already?
We want our country and constitution back as people are finally starting to wake up around the world to the tyranny of the banksters.
We must continue to sue in our courts over any violation of our rights so if they want to take them away they will have to announce it in courts around the country. Stand up to tyranny like the TSA clowns, the IRS and the FED. Homeland security must be disbanned as they are nothing more than the Gestapo inforcing the will of the rich bastards looking to control us and our lives. Time to take back control of our government.
Anonymous

Posted: Nov 10 2010, 8:32 AM

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7243 if you don't want the Gov't tracking your cell phone then don't have a cell phone. you people are retarded. I just watched ( most of it ) Alex Jones "documentary" on the economy. Apparently he doesn't realize almost all of the information he presents we all learned in 8th grade history. Big surprise " EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT!!!! Industrial leaders in the 20th century had a huge influence on the economy!!!! Holy Shit. The next thing you know we're gonna have "vaccines" and "evolution" and "the internet".
globalstomp

Posted: Jan 17 2013, 7:24 PM

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I should be able to have a cell phone without big brother listening in and tracking me. Why should I have to change what I do when it's the government we should change. The idea is that it's criminal not ok for folks who don't want a cell phone it's bad for us all even if you don't own a cell device.


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