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No Warrant Needed for Cellphone Data, Federal 5th Circuit Judges Rule

A panel of three federal judges ruled on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, in a 2-to-1 decision that police officers in the Fifth Circuit need only a court order (not a search warrant) to obtain access to locational data from your cell phone records.   Reasoning that geographical information collected by telephone companies becomes part of the cellphone provider’s business record, the Court decided that customers did not have an expectation of privacy in the data collected:

  • The ruling marks a significant departure from previous case law.
  • The case imparts a lower standard of suspicion for officers seeking to obtain evidence in connection with a crime.
  • Police officers in this circuit need only “reasonable grounds” to believe a suspect was involved in a crime in order to gain access to their personal and confidential cell phone records rather than “probable cause” to believe the suspect was involved in the crime.

The lesser standard of proof makes it only too easy for police to capture more information regarding your whereabouts without your knowledge or consent. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which had an amicus curi brief in this case, expressed its disappointment in the decision:

“This ruling fails to recognize that Americans do in fact have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their cellphone location information. Where you go can reveal a great deal about your life, and people don’t think that carrying a cellphone around means that someone can get a detailed record of their movement for days or even months on end… The government should not be able to access this personal, sensitive information without getting a warrant based on probable cause. Unfortunately, the 5th Circuit’s decision allows exactly that.”

To learn more about this case or to discuss the rules of evidence with an experienced attorney, contact a criminal defense lawyer at the law offices of Tacopina & Seigel

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