Tag Archives: search warrant

Cops & Data Collection: No Warrant Needed for Location Data

It seems the cops don’t need a warrant to know where you are. A federal appeals court handed down a ruling on Tuesday declaring that the public has no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their cell phone location records. The ruling means that police don’t need a search warrant to get access to cell tower location records when investigating criminal cases. Why?  According to the ruling this data belongs to a third party, the cell phone carrier.

The ruling in the case centered around Quartavious Davis, a Miami resident, who was convicted of robbery, possession of a firearm, and conspiracy in 2012.  Investigators obtained Davis’ cell phone records, 11,606 in all, for 67 days  from MetroPCS. Davis was eventually sentenced to 162 years in prison.

Davis’ case was appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The court disagreed in a 9-2 decision that the “government’s obtaining of a court order for the product of MetroPCS business records did not violate the Fourth Amendment.”  The ruling states that even though the cell tower records concerned Davis, they did not belong to him. The records were created by a third party, in this case MetroPCS, and therefore Davis did not have a right to privacy around that information.

The court’s ruling also argued that the public understands that cell towers are used to “connect calls, document charges, and assist in legitimate law-enforcement investigations.”  The public is aware that they can be tracked using their cell phones. The court argued that people have no reasonable right to expect privacy around those records. The ruling compared cell phone location records to store video surveillance tapes. “Those surveillance camera images show Davis at the precise location of the robbery, which is far more than MetroPCS’s cell tower location records show.”

Two judges dissented on the decision. They felt that the broad application of the “third-party doctrine” in the case could give the government grounds to greatly expand its searching capabilities without warrants in the future.



Supreme Court Says No to Cellphone Searches

US Supreme CourtIf you remember my previous article on this subject the question was “can police search a cell phone of person under arrest without a warrant?” And the answer came today in a unanimous decision;  the Supreme Court says no to cell phone searches!

The Supreme Court issued a sweeping defense of digital privacy in a landmark ruling Wednesday. The decision blocs law enforcement officials from searching cell phones without a warrant.  The only exception the Court made was in cases of extreme danger such as a child abduction or the threat of a terrorist attack. 

Chief Justice John Roberts laid out digital age privacy protections stating “more substantial privacy interests are at stake when digital data is involved” than in the past, in part because a cell phone collects “in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record.” 

Breaking It Down

So now we know. Black people have to follow these things because we have a checkered relationship with police. We know now that a police officer cannot arbitrarily examine our cell phone without a warrant. The laws says that the police can only search the immediate area to protect themselves. But keep in mind that a police officer can seize property as evidence while he awaits a search warrant.

But this decision fails in some areas. What about a a cell phone used in a crime that no one owns? Pay as you go cellphones have been used in drug dealing for years with no traceable ownership. If a phone is found at a crime scene and no one claims it; is a warrant needed? The next thing we need to consider is that cellphones can be wiped clean remotely. The question is what are the police doing about the potential for the electronic destruction of evidence? A smart criminal knows this so he maybe ready in case the police seize the phone. The final question is why did Justice designate extreme danger as child abduction only? Why not designate any situation where a life is in danger? There is  a lot of holes in this decision that will be hashed out as the courts see fit. Besides the Supreme Court has never been big on details.

But back to impact on the black community. The Justice is saying that so much information is collected and stored on a cell phone that searching it without a specific purpose is against the law. A search warrant declares exactly what will be searched and what the police expect to find.  That standard now applies to cellphones. The police have to tell a judge what they are searching for and why. It pays to know your rights. Understand police powers in the event you find yourself in a situation. Cellphones, computers and data is the new frontier in crime fighting and the cops have to play by the rules as do you and I.