A major Maryland court ruling that found police cannot use cellphones as a “real-time tracking device” without a warrant could call into question hundreds, if not thousands, of convictions in Baltimore – and set a precedent for similar privacy cases across the US.

The ruling by Maryland’s second-highest court was the first by an appeals court to hold that using cell site simulator technology known as Stingray without a warrant violates an individual’s fourth amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

The state has 16 days to appeal against the ruling to the state’s highest court, and legal observers expect it could reach the US supreme court. The attorney general’s office would not say whether it would ask the high court to reverse the ruling, saying it was still evaluating the case.

The technology, which is produced by the Harris corporation and is widely used by law enforcement and the IRS, imitates a cell tower, forces a phone to send a signal and traps metadata from phones that can reveal their location. A USA Today investigation has shown that the technology has been used in making arrests for everything from kidnapping to petty theft, but its use has often been obscured in police reports using vague language.

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