Tag Archives: fourth amendment

Government Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants

Mostly everyone has a cell phone.  A lot of smartphones have GPS capabilities.  This can be handy when you are looking for directions and you are lost.  However, what about being tracked?  For instance, unless you change your privacy settings, your photos will keep track of where you took the picture and what time.

The question the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided is whether the government needs a warrant to track you.  In In re: Application of the U.S.A. for Historical Cell Site Data (July 30, 2013 5th Cir. Ct.), the court ruled that obtaining cell-location information without a warrant  did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

When we think of the Fourth Amendment we remember that a search and seizure may require a warrant.  If there is no expectation of privacy, i.e. in a garbage bag we got rid of, then the government wouldn’t need a warrant.  However, if we have an expectation of privacy, i.e. to enter your house, then the government must have a warrant.

An expectation of privacy usually is the crux of a search and seizure case.  Here, the ACLU argued that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are being tracked for a long period of time and the data gathered is collected in great detail.

In this case, this argument was not discussed by the court.

Why would this not be discussed?  The Fourth Amendment deals with government actions.  In other words,  the seizure or search has to be collected by the government.  In a similar case, the Supreme Court had decided that the government must obtain a warrant if it wants to install a GPS tracking device.  See United States v. Jones (2012).

However, this case was found to be different.  The reason for this is because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the information was collected by a third-party, i.e. the cell phone carrier.  The court explained,

Where a third party collects information in the first instance for its own purposes, the Government claims that it can obtain this information later with a [section] 2703(d) order, just as it can subpoena other records of a private entity.  We agree.

Id. (citations omitted).

Here, the government was not installing a GPS tracking device.  The Government was accessing a business record owned by carriers.  The court stated:

… cell site information is clearly a business record.  The cell service provider collects and stores historical cell site data for its own business purposes, perhaps to monitor or optimize service on its network or to accurately bill its customers for the segments of its network that they use.   The Government does not require service providers to record this information or store it.  The providers control what they record and how long these records are retained.

Consequently, the court found that the Government did not need a warrant.

via Cops Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants, Appeals Court Rules | Threat Level | Wired.com.

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Filed under civil rights, courts, discovery, electronic discovery, federal, legal decision, legal research, Privacy Rights, technology

ACLU challenges NSA surveillance

On June 11th, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the NSA’s surveillance program.  The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the program violates the First Amendment rights or free speech and association, the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment, and that the surveillance program exceeds the authority provided by the Patriot Act.

ACLU, a customer of Verizon, made the following comments:

This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens.

It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation.  The program goes far beyond even the permissible limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy.

The complaint can be accessed here.

via ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of NSA Phone Spying Program | American Civil Liberties Union.

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Government settles lawsuit on warrantless home raids of immigrants

I came across this interesting settlement between the U.S. Government and nearly a dozen Latino immigrants.  The lawsuit alleged that immigration agents  committed widespread 4th Amendment violations when conducting home raids of immigrants.

One plaintiff alleged that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents pounded on doors before being allowed entry, swept through the homes, and terrorized the children.  The immigrants were U.S. citizens.  Another plaintiff alleged that when the home raids occurred she was 12-years old and that after busting in the ICE agents falsely told her “someone was dying upstairs.”

The District court approved of the stipulation and ordered the dismissal of the lawsuit.

Pursuant to the stipulation, the government will pay a $1 million settlement.  The settlement also provides that pending immigration proceedings will be terminated or delayed against eight (8) of the plaintiffs arrested during the raids.

Further, ICE will adopt policy changes for agents conducting warrantless home operations.  ICE agents must:

  • “seek consent to enter or search a private residence in a language understood by the resident whenever feasible;
  • they must have Spanish-speaking officers available to seek such consent when the target is from a Spanish-speaking country;
  • they must seek consent to to enter the outside areas of homes when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a backyard; and
  • they must not conduct protective sweeps through the homes without an articulable suspicion of danger.”

(bullet points added).

via Courthouse News Service.

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DNA collection of arrested individuals

This month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the issue of whether it is constitutional for the State to require DNA collection of arrested individuals.  The case is Maryland v. King.  The argument is set for February 26, 2013.

As way of background:

  • The federal government and at least 26 states (including California, Illinois, and Florida) take DNA samples from some or all who are arrested but not yet convicted of serious crimes.
  • Last month, President Obama signed into law the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act.  The statute will help pay the start-up costs for other states to begin testing people who are arrested.

So what does this issue mean?  The issue is whether the State, without a search warrant, can take a DNA swap of an arrested individual – who has not been convicted.

The Maryland Court of Appeals stated the 4th amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, protects people who haven’t been convicted from having to provide DNA evidence.  In addition, the court stated, “Although arrestees do not have all the expectations of privacy enjoyed by the general public, the presumption of innocence bestows on them greater protections than convicted felons, parolees or probationers.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals further explained that DNA samples “contain a massive amount of deeply personal information.”

 

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No Probable Cause vs. 1st and 4th amendment?

This is an interesting decision, allowing the first and fourth amendment claims of Port Militarization Resistance, an anti-war group, to go ahead.

The lawsuit arose when allegedly two civilian U.S. Army employees (Towery and Rudd) spied on the anti-war members and secretly disrupted protests.  The anti-war group was protesting the use of sea ports in Washington State for shipments of military supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The lawsuit alleges defendants befriended the anti-war group and “influenced and directed” tactics to disrupt protests without cause, and that defendants broke into a confidential attorney-client list serve.

The district court dismissed most of the claims, but allowed First and Fourth Amendment allegations against Towery and Rudd to go ahead, despite their motion for qualified immunity.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Ninth Court stated,

“It is clearly established that intentionally enabling arrests without probable cause in order to suppress speech violates the First Amendment,” the unsigned and unpublished opinion from Seattle states.

“Plaintiffs have pled a plausible violation of their clearly established First Amendment rights,” the ruling states. “Plaintiffs have alleged that defendants ‘deterred or chilled the plaintiff’s political speech’ and that such deterrence motivated defendants’ conduct.”

via Courthouse News Service.

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Cellphone Tower Tracking Without Court Order Considered in NJ Supreme Court

Does the government need a warrant when it uses cellphone towers to track individuals? That’s a question currently being considered by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In State of New Jersey v. Thomas W. Earls, the government argues that the tracking in question doesn’t invade someone’s privacy, according to Record of Bergen County, N.J. Privacy groups hope the court will see things differently, and build on this year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion that found attaching a GPS device on an individual’s vehicle without a warrant violated his 4th Amendment rights. Oral arguments take place Monday.

Thomas W. Earls was suspected in a series of residential burglaries. Police received real-time cellphone locations from his provider three times on one day, according to an amicus brief (PDF) filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation and the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey. Earls pleaded guilty to burglary and theft charges, but later reopened his case.

In July 2011, the Supreme Court of New Jersey Appellate Division found that determining Earls’ general location on public roads, or other places where there is no expectation of privacy, did not violate his constitutional rights.

via Cellphone Tower Tracking Without Court Order Considered in NJ Supreme Court – News – ABA Journal.

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