The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled police no longer need a court-issued search warrant to use cell phone location records.
The 9-2 decision came earlier this week in the case of Miami robbery suspect Quartavious Davis. Cell phone records were used to convict Davis in a number of armed robberies for which he received a 162-year prison sentence.
The court ruled that Davis had no expectation of privacy in regard to location records generated by cell towers.
“We find no reason to conclude that cellphone users lack facts about the functions of cell towers or about telephone providers’ recording cell tower usage,” Circuit Judge Frank M. Hull wrote for the majority. “This cell tower method of call connecting does not require a different constitutional result just because the telephone company has decided to automate wirelessly.”
The two dissenting judges argued that the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause and a search warrant before such records can be accessed by the police.
“Unfortunately, the majority is stuck in the early ‘80s when cell-phones were the size of bricks and cost $3,000. The cases from that long-ago era aren’t helpful in today’s world,” Davis attorney David O. Markus said.
The attorney warned that the ruling will set a precedent for the unconstitutional collection of private data, including Facebook posts, Amazon purchases and images and other data in cloud storage.
Markus also said the ruling will likely provide a “road map” for an appeal to a higher Court.
Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney at the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling imperils the constitutional rights of Americans.
“The majority opinion fails to appreciate the necessity of protecting our privacy in the digital age,” Wessler said.
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