Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Court Victory on Warrantless Tracking of Cell Phones

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday (pdf) that the government must turn over information from criminal prosecutions in which federal law enforcement agencies obtained cell-site location information without a warrant. The suit, filed as part of EFF’s FLAG Project and in conjunction with the ACLU, sought the release of the case numbers and case names in which the government had tracked the location of a person’s cell phone without obtaining a warrant.

The Court’s decision is the latest victory in the fight to stop the government from tracking citizens’ movements without a warrant. The D.C. court’s ruling follows on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to review United States v. Jones – a case challenging the constitutionality of law enforcement’s warrantless tracking of a suspect using a GPS device. The decision also follows the introduction of several bills in Congress that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before tracking someone’s location through their cell phone. Those bills were introduced in response to calls for location privacy reform by the Digital Due Process coalition, a diverse group of civil liberties groups like EFF and the Center for Democracy and companies like Google and Microsoft, that are pressing Congress to update electronic privacy law for the 21st century. And, of course, EFF has been fighting in the courts against warrantless cell phone location tracking for years, with much success. All of these developments are part of a growing trend toward greater public scrutiny, accountability, and transparency when it comes to law enforcement’s location tracking practices – a need that the court acknowledged in Tuesday's decision.                  More