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Federal court: 4th Amendment standard does not always apply to mobile phone location data

Published: September 8, 2010
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Source: RawStory

Law enforcement can still be required to obtain a search warrant for access to citizens' mobile phone location data, but police need not uphold the traditional Fourth Amendment standard of "probable cause" in the process of such an investigation, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

While civil liberties groups which argued in favor of stronger privacy protections largely called the ruling favorable, it still leaves room for law enforcement to continue large-scale mobile spying operations.

A friend-of-the-court brief [PDF link] in this case was given to the Third Circuit Federal Appeals Court on behalf of The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

The brief argued mobile phone users should not be subjected to a greater likelihood of government surveillance just by owning the device. Police all over the country have increasingly relied upon largely carte blanche access to mobile phone tracking data via web-based backend systems provided by major cellular carriers and third parties.

"Innocent Americans should not be made to feel the government is following them wherever they go – including in their own home," ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said, in a media advisory. "While there's no question that law enforcement agents should have the tools they need to stop crimes, such tools must be used in a manner that upholds the Constitution and personal privacy."

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