Cell Phone Records Can Show Where You Sleep and Where You Pray

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has become the latest federal appeals court to consider the question of whether law enforcement needs a warrant before it obtains cell phone location data. We have (with allies) filed an amicus brief in this case, as we did in cases now pending in the Fourth and Eleventh Circuits. Clearly this is an issue that is headed toward the Supreme Court (especially if the circuit courts come to different conclusions).

In this case, United States v. Carpenter, police obtained four months of historical cell phone location records for one suspect, Timothy Carpenter, and nearly three months of records for another suspect, Timothy Sanders. They did so without getting a warrant. For Mr. Carpenter, the records contain 12,898 separate points of location data, and for Mr. Sanders, 23,034 location points—an average of one every six minutes.

In this case as in the others, the data acquired by police provides a stark demonstration of how location data can reveal extraordinarily private details about our lives. For example here we found that:

  • In the early afternoon on a number of Sundays, Mr. Carpenter made or received calls from the cell tower sectors nearest to his church. His cell phone records do not routinely show him in that area on other days of the week, leading to the inference that he was worshipping at those times.
  • Mr. Carpenter’s call records reveal that over the course of four months, his phone was located in more than 200 separate cell tower sectors. On one day, he made and received 141 calls while located in 40 different sectors. These records provide a granular accounting of Mr. Carpenter’s locations and movements over time.
  • From December 23 to December 27, 2010, Mr. Carpenter’s last call of the night and first call of the next morning were either or both placed from the sector nearest to his home, suggesting that he slept at home on those evenings. But on the night of December 22, 2010, his last call of the night and first call of the next morning were placed from a Detroit neighborhood several miles away from his home. Although we have no reason to believe it to be the case here, Carpenter’s data shows how such information could easily reveal private details about who a person is sleeping with.

Records revealing these kinds of sensitive details of our lives are exactly what the Fourth Amendment was intended to protect. It’s crucial that law enforcement go to a neutral judge, demonstrate probable cause, and get a warrant before delving into a transcript of our every movement over the course of weeks or months.

Our brief was joined by the ACLU of Michigan, Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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The unconstitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d)...
Notwithstanding the fact that there is much good that can come from the legitimate (warrant based on probable cause) acquisition of Cell Site Location Information (stored/historical or real time), as of now, the location of wherever you carry your cell phone is recorded by your cellular service providers. In other words for the last several years every place you've visited or traveled while your cell phone was in your possession, on or off doesn't matter, has been recorded and saved and can be handed over to an investigative body who has obtained a court order under SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).
A court order is issued under a less stringent standard , a offer of “specific and articulable facts”( instead of the highest level of 4th amendment constitutional protection, a warrant based on probable cause see,( http://www.volokh.com/2011/01/11/2703d-orders-in-the-news-no-really).
One may postulate, "oh! I'll just get around that by carrying burners (disposable phones)". Yeah, sure, well guess what, we pass through hundreds of cell towers every day. If you have 2, 3, or 4 phones in your car every several seconds they send out signals to cell phone towers and this is how your location is mapped. Your 2,3, or 4 phones are the only phones that would have traveled that same mapped path so by them having your regular phone number they can easily see what phones followed the same cell tower to cell tower path and thus get your burner numbers as well...Wow...Now I understand why crime is down.
One may rationalize by saying, “they can’t pinpoint my exact location”. That may have been the case as of yesteryear but in today’s ever changing world, because technology increases with our every breath they now have what’s known as a femto cell, (see, http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/data-center/pros-and-cons-of-using-femtocells/) which can pinpoint a cellular phone location up to within a ten meters (i.e. to a particular floor, apt, address, etc.)
Another thing worthy of mentioning is the fact that local, state and federal police throughout the U.S. has purchased the ultra expensive stingray (cell tower simulator) device …see, (http://www.ibtimes.com/police-departments-18-states-use-stingray-tech-track-cell-phones-they-wont-talk-about-it-1694552 ). This device tricks a cell phone into thinking they are the cell tower and thus all information that would have been relayed to a cell tower is now relayed to the stingray device. No doubt this information is used to help obtain a court order under SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).
Once a court order is obtained now law enforcement can get real time and stored/historical CSLI on a person’s regular phone and any additional phones that person may have and thus build a case based on this violation. Under the more stringent standard of a warrant based on probable cause a warrant would have never been issued under these circumstances.
If you've been cheating on your spouse at a hotel that info is saved, all mapped out, and waiting.
If you commit a crime at a particular time and you have your cell phone on you...busted.
If you did a drug deal and had your regular phone on you and a year later the guy gets caught and tells...guess what? You was there...busted.
If you live an alternative lifestyle (undercover) and you visit those types of establishments ....guess what...there's a record.
If you just want to be alone, guess what...they have a record of that.
If the target is mostly "black" criminals and not white collar criminals this would be an abuse of power...
We the People deserve to know the ratio of black versus white targeted via CSLI/HCSLI, people and crime types.
Cellular phones and their residual matter (Cell Site Location Information [CSLI], and Historical Cell Site Location Information [HCSLI] ) have the potential to be a great benefit to humanity or a draconian tool to be used for the same purposes as an implanted chip. This is the case because a cellular phone offers the same, if not more, benefits or ill effects (depending on the person’s perception) as an implanted chip (i.e. location tracking, allows a person to buy and sell, etc. (see, http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/computers/item/17688-rfid-implants-the-benefits-vs-the-dangers). Can we really name one pertinent thing that a cellular phone does that an implanted chip couldn’t do?

This is the way to defeat this violation... (keep in mind, under this approach our current third party doctrine need not be amended on this issue because since cellular service providers are “agents”, because they collect this data at the behest/instigation of the government ( FCC rule E911), the third party doctrine is inapplicable.

In order to prevail on the issue of historical CSLI and mandate its requiring of a warrant to obtain, one must first attack the constitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) which allows the obtaining of historical/real-time CSLI with a court order.
SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) is unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Lustig, Byars, and countless succeeding federal and state cases that says, 'anytime the government (police, federal agent, etc) use a private citizen/entity (cellular service provider) as its agent (state actor) in acquiring evidence against someone this invokes the " full ponoply of constitutional protections" (i.e. ...a warrant based on probable cause is needed). This statute also fails both the “public function test” as well as the “lugar test”
The “public function test” states that a private entity will be considered a state actor if the private entity assumes or is delegated a power “ traditionally exclusively reserved to the State”, see Jackson v Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, at 352 (1964). Collecting evidence for criminal trials has always been the job of the State/Government and its delegated actors/agents.
When we apply the “two part test” that the “Lugar Test” outlines to this issue we see that it too denotes that cellular service providers are state/federal actors and/or agents respectively.
The first part of the Lugar Test states that the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the state or by a person for whom the State is responsible.
The deprivation occurs in the relinquishing of a person’s CSLI/HCSLI by cellular service providers at the behest of the government under the rule of conduct as outlined in rule SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).
The second part of the Lugar Test states, the party charged with the deprivation must be a person (entity) who may fairly be said to be a state actor. This may be because he is a state official, because he has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials, or because his conduct is chargeable to the State.
The party charged with the deprivation are the cellular service providers because in essence and in fact they are “agents/actors. What had officiated and cemented all cellular service providers statuses as "agents/actors for the government" is the "nexus" that was created in or around 2000 when the government's FCC issued a set of rules, called the Enhanced 911 rules (E911 rules), that mandated all wireless carriers to collect precise location information in the near future in order to improve the delivery of emergency services...See "The Mobile Wireless Web, Data, Services and Beyond: Emerging Technologies and Consumer Issues, pg. 9… published by the Federal Trade Commission, by Robert Ptofsky February,2002,..see, (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1q7pqeJ0PWGbmJqNVVkVnJSN0h4cHRSQ2hyWnZienR5YlJz/view?usp=sharing).
When you view this "staff report" you will get a unique pre-cell era view of this issue from the mindset of a diverse consortium of individuals who we at the forefront of pioneering cellular technology, rules, and safeguards.
For instance, at the workshop which the aforementioned book pertains to, there was consensus as to the uncertainty of who CSLI (historical and real time) belongs to.
We the People deserves to know who designated this newly developed, highly sensitive, and clearly outside the traditional boundaries of normal protocol who designated a citizens CSLI the property of cellular providers when all cellular providers were required to collect and retain this information at the behest of the government (see rule E911).
We the People deserves to know who designated this newly developed, highly sensitive, and clearly outside the traditional boundaries of past protocols, who designated a citizens CSLI the property of cellular providers when said ownership was clearly uncertain back in 2000.
We the People deserve to know who, how, and when the original intent of the government to collect this newly developed sensitive information that clearly trumps all other technological inventions of our time for E911 purposes transformed into criminal investigations without using the strictest safeguards?
We the People deserves to know how the keenest legal minds in the United States government allowed legislators to enact SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) unchecked, knowing full well cellular providers were government 'agents' for fourth amendment purposes and thus any information acquired by them at the behest of the government could only be turned over by abiding by the strictest of constitutional protocol with respect to a person's CSLI and HSCLI?
Notwithstanding the meritorious work and energy sacrificed by our hardworking legislators… We the People deserve to know if any other legislators who helped to vote SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) into being profited from the 5 to 9 billion dollar a year average the Harris Corporation (HRS) made over the years since this unconstitutional enactment, see . The Harris Corporation is the company that makes and sells the devices that capture CSLI and they have been selling these devices to police departments throughout the U.S. .
We the people deserve to know if any of these legislators had investments in Harris Corporation, or its subsidararies , or in any one of the investment companies that hold Harris Corp stock and thus profited from the more than $100 billion dollars made to investors as a direct result of their unconstitutional enactment.
The Wise and Honorable Justices have said in Union Pac. R.Co.V.Botsford. 141 U.S. 250,at 251, " No right is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law."...and,
The Well-balanced Justices of the court has said in Terry v Ohio 392 U.S. 1, at 15 "Under our decision, courts still retain their traditional responsibility to guard against police conduct which is overbearing or harassing, or which trenches upon personal security without the objective evidentiary justification which the Constitution requires. When such conduct is identified, it must be condemned by the judiciary and its fruits must be excluded from evidence in criminal trials"...most notably,
The Honorable and Well respected Justice Frankfurter has said in Lustig v United States, 338 U.S. 74, at 78-79, "[A] search is a search by a federal agent if he had a hand in it***the decisive factor in determining the applicability of the Byars case is the actuality of a share by a federal official in the total enterprise of securing and selecting evidence by other than sanction means. It is immaterial whether a federal agent originated the idea or joined in it while the search was in progress. So long as he was in it before the object of the search was completely accomplished, he must be deemed to have participated in it."...also;
The Prestigious Justices of the court have said in Byars v United States, 273 U.S. 28, at 33-34, " The Fourth Amendment was adopted in view of long misuse of power in the matter of searches and seizures both in England and in the colonies; and the assurance against any revival of it, so carefully embodied in the fundamental law, is not to be impaired by judicial sanction of equivocal methods, which, regarded superficially, may be seen to challenge the illegality but which, in reality, strike at the very substance of the constitutional right."
Lastly, the initial violative action (“fruit of the poisonous tree”, see ) in our judicial system with regards to this issue occurred with the application of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d). A poisonous rule or statute is far, far more damaging and destructive than a single piece of poisonous fruit (evidence gained through illegal or unconstitutional means or methods) for it gives rise to baskets upon baskets of poisonous fruit that will surely poison our nation. So to correct the problem you must attack it at its roots, i.e. the initial violation.
In closing, our judicial system is not perfect but is a system that can work if we meticulously safeguard all elements of our Constitution. When we sacrifice one mustard seed weight of our constitutional rights for a paltry gain, sinister intent, or for whatever reason the end result can only lead to chaos, nonconformity, and inconsistency in our courts decisions, judicial mindset, along with increased mayhem in society...as we see today with this issue, this, in addition to the countless snowballing detrimental effects from such violation(s).

Douglas P

I know that we can and usually are tracked by Mobil phones. You are even tracked to see where you eat, hand out with, and much more. They track where you eat to say that they are tracking diabetes, cancer rates, all kind of problems. This in itself is a problem just because I feel if you wanted to be tracked for study purposes then get that persons consent. This is truley an invasion of privacy that was signed into law after 9-11 to track terrorist only. We let this go but, now it must be fixed. People on disability are being tracked to see how active they are so, they can be cut off. Kids are tracked to find out where they have been,what they are texting, so they can be jailed. Jails are a big money maker for the states and if its a privatized jail, for get about it. Anyone for any reason is being put in jail. Look at the 3 children taken away from the mother and father because they wouldn't go and eat lunch with the father. LOL what a shame that there was no out rage from all of the people. We all own computers we don't need senetors anymore, we know how to read and write, I'm sure we can govern ourselves and pass our own laws. The gop is telling everyone who they can be with and to have baby's? Is this the new hitler age? I could go on and on. This isn't a free country anymore and hasn't been for a very long time. We had roots because of a few kids/men that got killed, witch was very wrong. I prayed for them but, there is so much more on the agenda that the streets should be filled always. I'm not in anyway trying to start trouble but I'm dying myself anyways and hate to leave without people really understanding and doing some good research to make us a FREE country. Please people read and see what we already have given up.


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david bell

As it is said freedom ends where security begins , this issue is quite complex.


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