Appeals Court OKs Warrantless, Real-Time Mobile Phone Tracking

Appeals Court OKs Warrantless, Real-Time Mobile Phone Tracking


Federal appeals courts ruled law enforcement may obtain real-time GPS tracking information from cell-phones to track people without a warrant.

Federal judges wrote the eulogy for another tenet of the US constitution Wednesday in ruling that declared real-time time GPS tracking information emitted from cell-phones is not protected by the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal search and seizure.

In a 2-1 decision handed down by the federal appeals court, the majority compared the information real-time GPS tracking information to a license plate on your car or the scent of your body, saying that police do not need a warrant to use such information to track you. However, many lawmakers and criminal appeal attorneys in Georgia and the rest of the United States have agreed otherwise.

Earlier this year the supreme court ruled it was illegal for the FBI to physically install GPS trackers on people’s cars after activists learned devices were installed on their cars to track them for political purposes. This means that if a tracking system were to be used to track a person of interest and a case against them were brought to court, under appeal law the parties involved could be eligible to appeal to the Federal courts and have any case against them overturned.

The ruling comes as Obama administration has increasingly turned to GPS cell-phone tracking to follow individuals- 1.3 million requests for personal data including information like messages, location data and calling record -because the supreme court ruled earlier this year it was illega the FBI to sneak in your driveway and install GPS trackers. While the use of reverse phone lookup can be a good way of seeing who called you previously, having the government do this might make some people feel safe in context.

To clarify, after activists learned devices were installed on their cars to track them for political purposes, the supreme court ruled it was okay for law enforcement to sneak on your driveway – they don’t need a warrant for that – but illegal to physically install a tracking device without a warrant.

Instead, Obama has turned to the disastrous decades old precedent that information you share with a third party – such as your cell-phone company or your internet provider when you go online – does not qualify for protection against government intrusion without a warrant.

Now you may say I am a law abiding citizen and I do nothing wrong so it does not bother me that the government tracks me everywhere I go just to make sure I am not a criminal.

There are many problems with that logic and a crooked government – such as the one we live under – looking to do evil things – as our government does everyday – will eventually use such powers to do bad things to good people.

Let’s say you just happened to be getting coffee at your local convenience story when you happen to become one of those citizens who witness a cop kills someone in cold blood for no go good reason as his fellow officer’s stand by and watch.

Now, you local police will have the ability once only held by top covert agencies and to track you as you flee from scene and who knows what your fate will be.

Think that it doesn’t happen? Check out this incident where cops massacred a man and then confiscated everyone’s cell phone and smashed them.

Which is another less severe and more common incident – police beat someone or commit some other less than lethal offense and then seek out and destroy the cell phones of those in the vicinity.

Really the list goes on and yes this does affect you.

Even if you personally are not a whistle blower or an activist you owe your freedoms and the liberties that you take for granted everyday to the whistleblowers and activists who put their own asses on the line to make sure you have those freedoms.

Wire reports:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday said the authorities do not need a probable-cause warrant to track a suspect’s every move via GPS signals from a suspect’s mobile phone.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling 2-1, upheld a 20-year term for a drug courier nabbed with 1,100 pounds of marijuana in a motorhome camper the authorities tracked via his mobile phone pinging cell towers from Arizona to a Texas truck stop.

The decision, a big boost for the government’s surveillance powers, comes as prosecutors are shifting their focus to warrantless cell-tower location tracking of suspects in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in January sharply limiting the use of GPS vehicle trackers. The Supreme Court found law enforcement should acquire probable-cause warrants from judges to affix GPS devices to vehicles and monitor their every move.

The court of appeals ruling comes a month after a congressional inquiry found that law enforcement made 1.3 million requests for cellphone data last year alone while seeking out subscriber information like text messages, location data and calling records.

Judge John M. Rogers wrote for the majority: (.pdf)

If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen. The recent nature of cell phone location technology does not change this. If it did, then technology would help criminals but not the police.


In all of the cases, including the 5th Circuit case, the Obama administration maintains that Americans have no expectation of privacy in cell-site records because they are “in the possession of a third party” – the mobile phone companies. What’s more, the authorities maintain that the cell site data is not as precise as GPS tracking and “there is no trespass or physical intrusion on a customer’s cellphone when the government obtains historical cell-site records from a provider.”


Wednesday’s ruling wasn’t unanimous on all counts, however.

Judge Bernice Donald upheld the conviction, based on the police’s “good faith’ exemption” to the warrant requirement. But Donald wrote that the majority was wrong in its theory of the case.

I would not characterize the question before us as whether society is prepared to recognize a legitimate expectation of privacy in the GPS data emitted from a cell phone used to effectuate drug trafficking. Rather, in keeping with the principle that the law affords the same constitutional protections to criminals and law-abiding citizens alike, the question is simply whether society is prepared to recognize a legitimate expectation of privacy in the GPS data emitted from any cell phone. Because I would answer this question in the affirmative, I cannot join Part II.A of the majority opinion.


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