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Court Decides Police Must Have a Warrant to Access Cellphone Data

Court Decides Police Must Have a Warrant to Access Cellphone Data

“Cellphone users have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Judge Andre Davis, one of the majority in the 2-1 decision on Wednesday that ruled a warrant is necessary for the government to obtain information from a citizen’s cellphone. 

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Wednesday that obtaining cell-site location information (CSLI) qualifies as a 4th Amendment search because “society recognizes an individual’s privacy interest in her movements over an extended time period.”  This decision contradicts rulings in the third, fifth, and eleventh circuit courts and many expect the case to go to the Supreme Court. 

Did you know that most cellphones keep a detailed history of location even when location services are off? After a similar ruling on Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Lucy Koh explained that modern cellphones automatically connect with cellular towers, generating a stream data which can later be used like a map to track a person’s movements. 

“Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit has squarely addressed whether cell phone users possess a reasonable expectation of privacy in the CSLI, historical or otherwise, associated with their cell phones,” said Koh. 

United States v. Graham came about after Baltimore police used a suspect’s CSLI to pinpoint his location after a series of robberies. Their actions were deemed “unreasonable” and a “violation of the appellants’ Fourth Amendment rights.” 



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