Timothy B. Lee
Aug 24, 2011
In recent years, the courts have struggled to decide whether the government needs a warrant to access historical records about a cell phone user’s location. Some courts have found that when users turn on their cell phones, they “voluntarily” transmit their location to their cell phone providers and thereby waive any expectation of privacy.
On Monday, Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York soundly rejected this line of reasoning. The federal government had asked the courts to order Verizon Wireless to turn over 113 days of location data about a suspect’s cell phone. It did so under a provision of the Stored Communications Act that only requires law enforcement to show that the records are “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Does the government violate the Constitution when it obtains location data without meeting the Fourth Amendment’s “probable cause” standard? Some courts have found that it does not. But in a 22-page opinion, Judge Garaufis analyzed and rejected these other courts’ arguments, holding that law enforcement needs a warrant to obtain months of location data.
“The fiction that the vast majority of the American population consents to warrantless government access to the records of a significant share of their movements by ‘choosing’ to carry a cell phone must be rejected,” he wrote. “In light of drastic developments in technology, the Fourth Amendment doctrine must evolve to preserve cell-phone user’s reasonable expectation of privacy in cumulative cell-site-location records.”
This article was posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 3:14 am