Federal court: no warrant is required for law enforcement to track your location via cell phone records

By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
August 1, 2013

(Image credit: Nicola since 1972/Flickr)

(Image credit: Nicola since 1972/Flickr)

A federal appeals court has ruled that law enforcement agencies are not required to obtain a warrant in order to track your location through your cell phone records.

This is hardly a surprising decision given that other judges have said that cell phone users have “no legitimate expectation of privacy,” some in the house have said no warrant should be required to acquire geolocation data, and the Obama administration claims location data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans supported this trend earlier the week by overturning a federal judge in Houston, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The court ruled that cell phone records are the property of your carrier and thus are not protected by the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause standard.

However, authorities must still get a court order in order to carry out a search of your cell phone records, though the standards are much lower than those required for search warrants.

Those searches are now capable of tracking your recent movements since location data is included.

“We understand the cell phone users may reasonably want their location information to remain private,” the Appeals Court stated, according to an Associated Press report.

“The Fourth Amendment, safeguarded by the courts, protects only reasonable expectations of privacy,” the court ruled.

Unsurprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which participated in the case by filing legal briefs, called the ruling “troubling.”

“This ruling is troubling because, as we and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argued, only a warrant standard fully protects Americans’ privacy interests in their locations and movements over time,” the ACLU said in a statement, which was also posted in part by CNET.

“Cell phone companies store records on where each of us have been, often stretching back for years,” the ACLU continued. “That location information is sensitive and can reveal a great deal — what doctors people visit, where they spend the night, who their friends are, and where they worship.”

“Given the sensitivity of these facts, law enforcement agents should have to demonstrate to a judge that they have a good reason to believe that they will turn up evidence of wrongdoing before gaining access to information that can paint a detailed picture of where a person has been over time,” the ACLU argued.

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