Cell phone location data not private, Feds argue
Fifth Circuit appellate court hears arguments on warrantless tracking of cellular location data
Computerworld - Individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in historical cell phone location data collected and maintained by phone companies, a federal prosecutor said in oral arguments Monday before a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The court is reviewing an appeal from the U.S government in a case pertaining to the government's authority to collect historical cell phone location data from a phone company without obtaining a formal search warrant first.
Federal prosecutors in the case have maintained that the Stored Communications Act (SCA) of 1986 allows them to use a relatively easy-to-obtain court order, called 2703 (d), to force a cellphone company to turn over historical cell-site location information on specific subscribers.
Privacy advocates have insisted that law enforcement authorities should be required to obtain search warrants based on higher reasonable cause standards before they can ask a carrier for cell phone location data. They have argued that any location data collected without such a warrant is a violation of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
The case is an important one and comes at a time when lawmakers and courts around the country are grappling with the issue of warrantless tracking of location data by law enforcement authorities. Many have expressed concern that unbridled cell phone location tracking will let the government conduct extensive surveillance on cell phone owners.
In August, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Fourth Amendment protections do not in fact extend to cell phone location data. In arriving at the decision, the court maintained that there is little constitutional difference between tracking a suspect physically on public roads and using cellular technology to do the same thing.
The Sixth Circuit's decision was somewhat at odds with one arrived at two years ago by the Third Circuit appellate court which held that law enforcement authorities needed to obtain search warrants to gather customer cellphone location data stored by phone companies.
Meanwhile in California, state lawmakers recently passed legislation that would have required law enforcement to obtain a search warrant for seeking location-tracking data. California Governor Jerry Brown however vetoed that bill last weekend.
The case before the Fifth Circuit goes back to 2010 when law enforcement authorities in Houston, Texas, tried to obtain separate, but similar court orders seeking to compel two phone companies -- T-Mobile and MetroPCS -- to give up 60-days worth of cell-site location data pertaining to criminal suspects in three separate investigations.
Two of the targets of the investigations were suspected drug traffickers while the third was suspected of being involved in gang activity.
A Texas Magistrate judge who reviewed the applications for the 2703 (d) orders denied each one on the grounds that any compelled disclosure of cell-site data would be a violation of Fourth Amendment protections.
A Houston District Court that heard the government's appeal of the decision concurred with the lower court and maintained that a compelled disclosure under a 2703(d) order was not constitutional.
In arguments Monday before the Fifth Circuit, federal prosecutor Nathan Judish reiterated the government's position that the Fourth Amendment allows the U.S. government to obtain a 2703(d) order to force a cell phone company to divulge customer records.
- NSA defends collecting data from U.S. residents not suspected of terrorist activities
- Groups fear bill would allow free flow of data between private sector and NSA
- Google's move into home automation means even less privacy
- Bill to require warrant for email searches gains ground in House
- Coming soon to a fridge near you -- targeted ads
- Snowden leaks prompt tech firms to tout privacy, transparency policies
- License reader lawsuit can be heard, appeals court rules
- Is EU's 'right to be forgotten' really the 'right to edit the truth'?
- Tails 1.0: A bootable Linux distro that protects your privacy
- Privacy jitters derail controversial K-12 big data initiative
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- The Truth About Virtual Computing for CAD If you're a user of graphics-intensive software such as 3D modeling, simulation and analysis, and visualization, you might be skeptical about moving to...
- Virtually Delivered High Performance 3D Graphics "A picture is worth a thousand words." That old phrase is as true today as it ever was. Pictures (i.e., those with heavy...
- Simplifying Product Design In A Complex World Product design engineering has moved far beyond the confines of ever-more powerful workstations. Companies can't afford to restrict projects to using only local...
- Data Protection and Disaster Recovery with iSCSI and VMware Get this on demand webcast now
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different.... All Privacy White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!