Should Law Enforcement Be Able to Track a Cell Phone Using GPS Data With No Warrant?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit says yes. Do you agree?

A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit — which consists of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — says there's no expectation of privacy when it comes to cell phone GPS data. 

The court ruled 2 to 1 on Tuesday that the Drug Enforcement Administration did not violate the Fourth Amendment in using cell phone data to track a suspect's whereabouts.

According to a Wall Street Journal law blog, agents used the GPS data from the suspect's throw-away phone to track him, and Melvin Skinner was arrested in 2006 at a rest stop in Texas in a motorhome filled with more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana. In appealing his conviction, Skinner argued the data emitted from his cell phone couldn’t be used because the DEA failed to obtain a warrant for it, which violated the Fourth Amendment.

Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Judge John M. Rogers, writing for the majority, wrote: 

There is no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cell phone. 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.

What do you think about the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit? Should law enforcement be required to obtain a warrant to track cell phone GPS data? Tell us in comments. 

R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 15, 2012 at 09:54 PM
The 2nd won't be around at that point ... Without a warrant? No But the government is simply telling you NOW that ANY phone data has no expectation of privacy attached, by extension the internet too... Sadly, since communications are monitored - why would it? Notice the ever increasing number of interruptions related to weekly tests of the Civil Authority Alert Broadcast system? The creepiest being over 140 simultaneous channels of the SAME C SPAN feed for over 40 minutes. I think there’s a "real time" Tom Clancy novel here … (shutter) Stepping out for a roll of foil now.
Davidjr1215 August 16, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Who needs the Constitution anyway right? It is old fashioned and has nothing to do with todays totalitarian rulers in the White House. Who needs privacy? Its un Patriotic to expect privacy. If your an American citizen you do what your told and nothing more or less. Guilty unless your lucky enough to be proven innocent in todays society.
Tim August 20, 2012 at 10:53 PM
No, absolutely not without probably cause and a warrant!
ricky August 22, 2012 at 06:50 AM
yes if you are a bad guy the govt should be able to locate you. If you are a good guy then you have nothing to worry about.
Kevin Krans September 04, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Ricky, let's leave that kind of logic on Grandma's porch swing. Your exact reply is the #1 threat to losing ALL privacy. I know criminals are scary and we don't like them. Imagine a society where it's impossible to do anything criminal because you have zero privacy. Isn't that a little bit creepy to you? Or is that Utopia in your view?


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