Skip to main content

Gov. Can Now Track Your Phones Without Warrant

Tuesday a federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled that--in most cases--the FBI and other police agencies do not need a search warrant in order to track the location of cell phones used by Americans.

The three-judge panel of the Third Circuit sided with the Obama Administration (pdf) in the belief that a signed search warrant--one based on a probable cause to suspect criminal activity--isn't necessary when obtaining logs from wireless carriers that depict the whereabouts of a cell phone.

However the panel also sided with civil-liberties groups and decided that, in some cases, investigators will still need to obtain a search warrant from the lower courts to avoid potentially unconstitutional seizures of location data. The court said that this option would be used "sparingly."

Currently there's still a debate on whether the Fourth Amendment applies to phone records. "This decision does not definitively answer the question of the Fourth Amendment status of cell phone [location records]," said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kevin Bankston.

Controversy surrounding the original drug-related case sparked when U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan said that the Justice Department could not obtain stored location data without a search warrant, citing federal privacy laws. Lenihan demanded that the Justice Department show probable cause.

The Obama Administration retaliated, indicating that warrantless tracking was permissible because Americans enjoy no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their location--or at least in regards to cell phone use. The Administration said that it only needs a 2703(d) order to obtain the information--this requires law officials to show that the records are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.

For the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy groups, the ruling is seen as a victory because some cases will still require a warrant. "Although the court did not definitively rule on the Fourth Amendment status of cell phone location information, it made clear that under some circumstances the privacy of such data could be constitutionally protected, and that judges have the discretion to require a warrant to avoid potentially unconstitutional seizures of location data," Bankston said.

  • mojito_619
    Um... I bet some didn't have a warrant before this law.
  • Supertrek32
    Conspiracy theorist outrage in 3... 2... 1...
  • coopchennick
    It's surprising what Obama will do and that we accept it just because he's Obama.
  • reddragon72
    This rates right there with your IP addy and traffic cams. I believe that none of those, including cell phone, can be used against you for any reason as there is no clear way to prove that you were present with the phone. It is all circumstantial evidence and if I were a judge I would throw it out do to the fact that nothing proves YOU were there. It's pretty easy to sneak into someones house steal there car keys and then perform some crime then drop the car back off without you ever knowing it. Can you be held liable? yes, why? it's your vehicle that was seen so therefor you must have done the crime. Is it your cellphone? yes. was it at the scene of the crime? yes. then you must be guilty. WRONG!!!! it's to easy to frame someone on that premise alone, and therefor should not be submittable in court.
  • gnice3d
    Big brother is here.. Well, he's been here but now they are making it all legal.
    Obama is selling out the American people like every other president in the last 30-40 years.

    They should just change "president" to super-ceo
  • jellico
    coopchennickIt's surprising what Obama will do and that we accept it just because he's Obama.Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. When President Bush signed intrusive legislation into laws, or issued executive orders which undermined privacy and freedoms, most people pitched a major fit... and rightfully so. Now that Obama is in power, you would think the first thing he would do is repeal or reverse some of that... nope! In fact, he's keeping those laws/orders in place and adding many of his own. At least with Bush, the intent of the laws was to gain intelligence on suspected terrorists (even though that could be easily abused). With Obama, it seems any and all Americans are fair game.
  • maestintaolius
    coopchennickIt's surprising what Obama will do and that we accept it just because he's Obama.Bush pulled the exact same crap with his warrantless wiretaps. Both parties suck and it angers me greatly that the only 'major' parties outside of those two are either ridiculously right wing bible-bangers who want to use gov't to enforce their flavor of morality or stoned out treehuggin hippies who don't want anyone to make a buck (and my poor libertarian party isn't even on the radar).
  • angelraiter
    Land of the free? Really? First the Patriot Act, now this, how about we just call it what it is and burn the Constitution, at least that way people know the true nature of the Leviathan governing them.
  • insider3
    I'm pretty sure this was going on for a long time.
  • Sabiancym
    Cue right wing nutjob conspiracy