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5th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Government can track you via cell phone records without a warrant

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5th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Government can track you via cell phone records without a warrant

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We all know how valuable the GPS function is on our cell phones. We use it everyday to look up directions, nearby restaurants, and sometimes even to find a friend. What we often don’t think about is how that information is stored and who has access to it.
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The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th District (LA, MS, TX) ruled today that cellphone data can be obtained under the Stored Communications Act without the need of a search warrant. In order to obtain the data, the court ruled, the government need only to demonstrate that there are “reasonable grounds” for the government to believe that the cellphone data may be relevant to a criminal investigation. This standard is well below the “probable cause” standard necessary for the government to obtain a search warrant.

The state successfully argued that cellphone data does not belong to the customer, rather it belongs to the cell phone provider as a business record. Therefore, as a customer you have no expectation of privacy over your own phone records.

This ruling is in conflict with other state supreme court rulings that do require a warrant to access such records as well as some state laws. The ruling does not bind courts in New England, however, it can impact how courts will handle such requests in the near future.

You can read the full court opinion here.

Read a recent article in Time on the ruling.

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