4221172Obtaining cell phone location data without a warrant constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment according to a ruling made yesterday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The court ruled that the government broke the law when it used cell phone location data to convict Quartavious Davis of several armed robberies in the Miami area, Motherboard reports. In the opinion, Sentelle examined and thoroughly refuted several major arguments presented by the government in defense of the data collection.
The federal government claimed that cellphone location data was associated with lesser expectations of privacy than GPS data, which was declared to be protected under the Fourth Amendment by the Supreme Court decision in United States v. The government further tried to distance cellphone data from GPS data by claiming that the lower precision of location data from cell towers should make it obtainable without a warrant, but the court determined that the difference in precision was irrelevant.
Finally, the United States made the argument that making a call constitutes voluntarily giving up location data to the service provider, which would then in turn be within its rights to turn that information over to the government. Although the court found that the other evidence in the case was still sufficient to uphold Davis’s conviction, the American Civil Liberties Union, which defended Davis, called the decision a victory for Fourth Amendment rights. Currently the ruling applies within the jurisdiction of the Eleventh Circuit but is expected to act as a major precedent in future cases. Last Friday the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled a warrantless search of a cell phone during the arrest of a Boston man that contributed to his conviction on drug and weapon charges was unconstitutional. Brima Wurie was convicted by a jury in February 2010 of distribution of crack cocaine, possessing additional crack cocaine with intent to distribute, and being a felon-in-possession of a firearm. The Florida Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a similar police search of an arrested person’s phone without a warrant was unconstitutional earlier this month, but four other federal appeals court have ruled searching a cellphone found on someone arrested is fair game. The 3rd Circuit is hearing an interesting appeal on whether the government needs to get a warrant before demanding cell site data from phone companies.

Cell sites are those transmitters you see on rooftops and towers, beaming and receiving cell phone communications. Phone company records will show what cell site was being used by a particular phone at any given time. This is passive data, as opposed to an active “ping” whereby a signal is sent directly to a particular phone for the purpose of identifying its location.
Most phone companies will not provide real-time cell site data to law enforcement without a court order. In this case, the feds asked for a 2703(d) order, but unusually did not seek real-time cell site info. The magistrate denied that request, holding that a request for real-time data would have been fine, but that historical data is not permitted pursuant to a 2703(d) order.
The feds appealed to the district court, arguing that the magistrate’s decision was bizarre. Although we are on the defense side, it seems as though both the magistrate and the district court judge got things backwards.
Nathaniel Burney writes The Criminal Lawyer mainly for his own amusement and that of his sexy sexy followers. This blog does not constitute legal advice, and does not create or imply any attorney-client relationship. To inquire about representation, or if there is something you would like to see written about here, click here to send an email.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones became visibly irate this week after being questioned over his departmenta€™s secret use of the cell-phone tracking technology known as Stingray.

According to reports from ABC News 10, the department obtained the Stingray, a small device that collects countless cell users data by mimicking a cell tower, several years ago without informing the public, local judges or prosecutors. Scott, who has reportedly failed to provide any substantial information to media and civil liberties groups, became outraged as one reporter began questioning his departmenta€™s lack of transparency. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, police can no longer access location data from cell phone towers without a warrant. The data was obtained through a court order that did not require the government to show probable cause, rather than through a warrant. The court rejected this argument as well, stating that a caller voluntarily gives up only the number dialed, not his or her location. The decision adds to a growing court divide on whether access to digital devices and the personal information they often contain requires judicial oversight.
Officers allegedly observed Wurie engaging in a drug sale in a car, picked him up, and used information from one of the two cell phones on his person to discover his home address and obtain a warrant to search it, resulting in the additional weapon and drug charges. Supreme Court ruled searches at the time of arrest without a warrant are permissible in United States v.
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However, Sentelle stated that cellphone data is in fact more private, due to the fact that phones often remain on a person at all times, including private activities.

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