Police used automatically-created cell phone location data to track individuals’ movements throughout Miami area without a warrant
April 25, 2014
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Miami – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case about whether police need a warrant to track an individual’s location using data created by their cell phone service provider.
A panel of judges heard arguments today in a case, United States v. Davis, which involves warrantless police requests for cell phone location records. For one of the individuals involved, Quartavious Davis, police received 11,606 location records over the course of 67 days. The ACLU, along with the ACLU of Florida, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that the government violated the Fourth Amendment when it obtained these location requests from wireless carriers without first obtaining a warrant.
"Your cell phone location records can reveal extraordinarily private information about you, including where you go to the doctor, who your friends are, and where you sleep at night," said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, who defended the ACLU’s brief before the three-judge panel.
The ACLU’s brief explains that, because the location data created whenever an individual’s cell phone connects to a "cell site" (tower) to make or receive a call or text message can be used to track an individual’s location and movement, for police to access this data without first obtaining a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.
"The constitution requires the police to get a warrant from a neutral judge before seeking this kind of sensitive personal information about someone," added Wessler. "In this case, without getting a warrant, law enforcement obtained more than 11,000 location points from Mr. Davis’s wireless service provider, charting his movements over a 67-day period. This violated the Fourth Amendment, and the evidence should be thrown out."
The judges hearing the arguments repeatedly thanked the ACLU for its brief, which laid out the constitutional issues at stake in the case.
A copy of the ACLU’s amicus brief is available here: