ACLU Asks Appeals Court to Reconsider Cell Phone Tracking Decision

Yesterday we asked the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the arguments in our amicus brief that it should rehear a case decided by a three-judge panel in a ruling last month that undermined the privacy rights of everyone who carries a cell phone.

In the case, law enforcement agents required Melvin Skinner’s cell phone company to provide them with his GPS coordinates continuously for three days as he drove across the country. The agents did not get a warrant or demonstrate probable cause. Using the data, the agents tracked Skinner down, searched his motor home, and arrested him for his alleged role as a drug courier. On appeal, Skinner argued that the warrantless GPS phone tracking violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Unfortunately, the Sixth Circuit disagreed. In a decision that has been extensively criticized, the court said that the Fourth Amendment provides no protection for three days’ worth of real-time GPS tracking data derived from a cell phone. Although the court framed the issue as about the “rights of criminals,” its reasoning would deprive everyone who owns a cell phone of any Fourth Amendment protection against being tracked this way. This is particularly unfortunate given that the Supreme Court held earlier this year, in United States v. Jones, that when law enforcement agents wish to attach a GPS device to a vehicle to track its movements, that counts as a search under the Fourth Amendment.

On August 28, Skinner asked the Sixth Circuit to reconsider its decision. In our brief in support of that request (joined by our coalition partners the ACLU of Michigan, ACLU of Tennessee, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Electronic Privacy Information Center), we wrote:

This Court should grant rehearing because the majority opinion is wrongly decided in light of United States v. Jones, supra. The panel majority opinion is an unusually important and weighty precedent given its status as the first appellate decision in the nation to apply Jones to GPS tracking via cell phones and severely undercuts the Jones decision by effectively limiting it to its facts. While Jones places constitutional restrictions on the ability of the police to track the location of a car using GPS, the Sixth Circuit has now held that agents can engage in even more intrusive surveillance of cell phones without implicating the Fourth Amendment at all. This Court should grant rehearing so the important issues in this case can be more thoroughly considered.

Where people go reveals a great deal about who they are and what they value. The government should not be accessing three days’ worth of GPS tracking information without being authorized to do so by a judicially-issued warrant based on probable cause.

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Law Abiding citizen

When are the police going to be able to do their job, protect society and catch criminals, and not have to worry about breaking a criminal's "civil rights?"
We have gone far beyond the old days of beating a confession out of a suspect, and the ACLU has done their job well to make sure those things dont happen again. Now its time to throttle back and let the police perform their duties without a stranglehold on their performance.
These new and revamped restrictions are costing us valuable time and money. The general public needs to be made aware of the crimes that go unsolved, or not solved before additional people are harmed, because of the many restrictions that are placed on them.
I am a law abiding citizen, and I am fully aware that I may have to give up some civil liberties in order to allow Homeland Security and the Police conduct surveys and searches for criminals and terrorits. It is my CIVIL DUTY to allow these things to take place without my hinderence.

AreYouKiddingMe?

Law Abiding Citizen you must surely be in law enforement in some capcity or another. If you were truly a law abiding citizen, and you had the misfortune of ever going through an unlawful invasion of your privacy by a corrupt police officer, who had all the power of the government behind him to track your movements via GPS, read your mail and emails, request your call records, among other tactics to learn more about your private life, and all with no judicial oversight or required reporting of any kid -- heck, he didn't even have to tell his superiors about his activities -- trust me you would think twice about not having some sort of oversight when it comes to such an officer. If every officer had 100% intergity, then I may agree with your position, but with great power comes great temptation to abuse that power, and unfortunately we have some very corupt officers, and we MUST have the tools to limit the damage they can do with the power invested in them (at least until they can be found out and dismissed). Unfortunately this is ONE example of why the fight the ACLU is currently engaged is critical. Sorry for the rant, but I've personally experienced what unchecked power feels like as a stalking victim of a police officer. There was no escape, no help, and no way to protect my privacy from this officer, even though I was a law abiding citizen.

Really, R U Kid...

Law Abiding Citizen you must surely be in law enforement in some capcity or another. If you were truly a law abiding citizen, and you had the misfortune of ever going through an unlawful invasion of your privacy by a corrupt police officer, who had all the power of the government behind him to track your movements via GPS, read your emails, request your call records, among other tactics to learn more about your private life, and all with no judicial oversight or required reporting -- heck, he didn't even have to tell his superiors about his activities -- trust me you would think twice about not having some sort of oversight when it comes to such an officer. If every officer had 100% intergity, then I may agree with your position, but with great power comes great temptation to abuse that power, and unfortunately we have some very corupt officers, and we MUST have the tools to limit the damage they can do with the power invested in them (at least until they can be found out and dismissed). Unfortunately this is ONE example of why the fight the ACLU is currently engaged is critical. Sorry for the rant, but I've personally experienced what unchecked power feels like as a stalking victim of a police officer. There was no escape, no help, and no way to protect my privacy from this officer, even though I was a Law Abiding Citizen.

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