Court Says Warrants Required for Phone Location Data
Jun 12, 2014, 7:15 AM by Eric M. Zeman
An appellate court in Atlanta unanimously decided that police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a suspected criminal by accessing his cell phone's location data without a warrant. Police investigating a string of robberies used a court order to obtain the suspect's cell phone data, which included details about the cell towers his phone connected to when making calls and gave away his general location. Court orders are easier to obtain, as the investigators only needed to show that the data might be relevant to the case. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided, however, that in order to gain access to such data investigators will need to show probable cause — or stronger evidence tying a suspect to a particular crime. "Cell site location information is within the subscriber's reasonable expectation of privacy," wrote Judge David B. Sentelle. "The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation." Despite ruling in the defendant's favor, the court upheld the 162-year prison sentence. This ruling contradicts two other appellate court rulings, which determined that police can access location data without a warrant. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the matter, though the high court will soon decide whether or not police need a warrant to search the contents of a suspect's cellphone.
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