District Court Requires Warrant for Cell Phone Location Data
By Michael Hoven – Edited by Jonathan Allred
In the Matter of an Application of the United States of America for an Order Authorizing the Release of Historical Cell-Site Information, 10-MC-897 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 22, 2011)
The United States District Court of the Eastern District of New York denied the government’s request to order Verizon Wireless to turn over 113 days of customer location data which, according to the government, was relevant to a criminal investigation.
The court held that the Fourth Amendment covered cell phone location data and that law enforcement would need to show probable cause and receive a warrant to access such information. The court decided that cell phone users have a reasonable expectation of privacy that deserves protection from government intrusion. In so holding, the court applied an exception to the third-party-disclosure doctrine that would otherwise give law enforcement access to non-content information (such as location data) that users have already divulged to a third party (such as a service provider), concluding that disclosure of cumulative cell phone location data would be as intrusive as disclosure of the content of cell phone communications.
Ars Technica provides an overview of the case. Techdirt applauds the decision’s protection of cell phone users’ privacy. Wired notes that action by the Supreme Court or the Senate could favor government access over user privacy and limit the effect of the court’s ruling. (more…)