US court rules warrant required for cellphone tracking

2015-08-06 10:54

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Richmond - Police must get a search warrant to obtain records about mobile phone locations in criminal investigations, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group, said the decision by a three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals conflicts with two other federal appeals court rulings and increases the possibility that the US Supreme Court will take up the issue. Attorneys last week asked the Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling in a Florida case that said search warrants are not required.

The case in the Richmond-based appeals court involved two men who were convicted of a series of armed robberies in the Baltimore area. The court said authorities who obtained cellphone tower records tracking the suspects' movements without a warrant violated the US Constitution's prohibition against unreasonable searches.

The ACLU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief agreeing with the men that investigators improperly obtained seven months of location information from their cellphone service providers.

The court upheld the convictions because the government relied in good faith on court orders seeking the data, but held that search warrants must be obtained in future investigations.

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote in a dissenting opinion that the Supreme Court has long held that a person has no expectation of privacy in information voluntarily turned over to a third party.

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