Tag Archives: warrantless

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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Mobile Data Privacy Laws Misunderstood by Users

Smartphone users understanding of privacy laws may not be accurate, according to a recent survey by law researchers from the University of California at Berkeley. The survey considered data from 1,200 users telephoned on either a landline or a mobile phone and sought to gain insight on perceptions about privacy as it relates to data stored on mobile devices. Researchers found that over 80 percent of users surveyed believed that their mobile phone was as private at their personal computer. Further, 70 percent of users would not want their cell phone provider to use location-based data to target ads to them, nor would they wish for social networking apps to use their contact lists.

As discussed by Technology Review, most smartphone users surveyed were seemingly unaware that, during an arrest, courts have allowed the search of a cellphone just as if it were any other possession. Regarding the use of location-based data for targeted advertisement, many apps already collect location data, sometimes with the users unknowing permission, hastily and inadvertently given when accepting the conditions of a free app.

But for midsize businesses, it is the collection of users contact lists that is perhaps most troubling. Businesses have privacy policies to protect customer information, but rightly or wrongly, it is a common enough practice in industry for employees to store customer phone numbers and other sensitive information on business and sometimes even personal cellphones. A recent article in Todays iPhone says that a recent Bitdefender study of 65,000 apps showed that 18.6% access cellphone users contact list information, and only 57.5% of those apps go on to encrypt the captured data. Although the release of iOS 6 will warn users when an app wants to collect data, it is still a troubling statistic.

via Midsize Insider: Mobile Data Privacy Laws Misunderstood by Users.

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Supreme Court to Consider Right to Sue in Challenge to Wiretap Law

From ABA Journal News:

In oral arguments on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether a group of lawyers, human rights groups and journalists have standing to challenge a warrantless wiretapping law.

The 2008 law authorizes the National Security Agency to monitor international emails and phone calls without a warrant for each target, according to Reuters and a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs.

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer argues that the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was correct when it ruled the plaintiffs may challenge the law because they faced a substantial risk their communications would be monitored and took costly measures to avoid it.

“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree with the Court of Appeals that the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance powers can and should be tested in court,” Jaffer says in the press release.

The government argues that the plaintiffs don’t have standing because the surveillance is secret and they cannot prove they were harmed. A Slate column predicts the government will win, if the Supreme Court “holds to its modern, skeptical view of standing.”

But doesn’t mean the law can never be challenged, the Slate article says. “If the government prosecutes a target using information obtained from surveillance, that person will be able to argue that the introduction of the evidence would violate his constitutional rights. However, if the government avoids bringing such cases, then people who are spied on will be out of luck.”

A New York Times editorial offers a different view. “It would not require a legal stretch for the court to find that the plaintiffs had standing to sue,” the article says.The case is Clapper v. Amnesty International.

via Supreme Court to Consider Right to Sue in Challenge to Wiretap Law – News – ABA Journal.

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