July 31, 2013
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit delivered another blow to the Fourth Amendment this week when it ruled the police do not need a search warrant to track cell phones.
The court ruled that because cell phone records are owned by phone providers the user has no expectation of privacy and thus no search warrant is required to access data.
“The court did not address whether people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their movements and made clear its decision only concerned obtaining historical cell site records when a user makes or ends a phone call,” Hanni Fakhoury writes for the Electronic Frontier Foundation today.
According to the court, a location is voluntarily turned over when the “user makes a choice to get a phone, to select a particular service provider, and to make a call.”
The lower court was able to make this decision because the Supreme Court is reluctant to rule on the Fourth Amendment and new technologies.
The so-called “third party doctrine” — the premise that you have no expectation of privacy if information is turned over to third parties — “is dangerously eroding our Fourth Amendment protection at a time when cell phone companies and Internet service providers are stockpiling extensive personal information about all of us,” writes Fakhoury for the EFF.