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For years, US courts have ruled that no search warrant was required for mobile phone tracking by police. Some courts ruled that a court order was sufficient. But a new ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals says different. The undisputed decision is a small victory for the district against unwarranted phone tracking.
No Warrant, No Data
The federal court of appeals for the 11th district ruled last Wednesday that phone tracking by law enforcement without a search warrant is illegal. The counties under this district’s jurisdiction now also have protection against phone record searches. Police cannot obtain users’ locations through phone tracking or demand location histories from mobile phone service providers.
The battle for phone privacy began with a case of armed robbery. The court was presented with evidence in the form of location records obtained through phone tracking. The accused, Quartavious Davis, was convicted and appealed on 4th amendment grounds. Warrantless phone tracking is protected by the amendment provisions on unreasonable search and seizure. Location data by phone tracking or by company data search now cannot be obtained by police without first proving grounds and obtaining a warrant. Davis’ conviction still stands, but future cases resting on phone tracking won’t be so easily pursued.
Warrantless Phone Tracking at an End?
The debate over warrantless phone tracking by law enforcement has been going on for about a decade. Many courts have ruled that the police don’t need to get search warrants for phone tracking or to demand phone records from mobile carriers. But this long history of warrantless phone tracking could turn around with this new 11th Circuit ruling. Some say that an end to phone tracking is too much to hope for. It won’t change the opposing ruling of the 5th Circuit, for one. But the US Department of Justice has agreed with the need for warrants , and the 4th amendment clearly supports it as well. Civil liberties groups also continue to fight against warrantless phone tracking. We can reasonably hope that other courts will also see our cellular site location data as falling under constitutional privacy rights.