Cell Tower

Supreme Court Ruling May Give Police Carte Blanche for Geolocation

Ars Technica reports the US Supreme Court will soon meet behind closed doors to discuss whether police need a warrant to obtain mobile phone location data, information that is continuously captured whenever a phone is on. Police have argued that this data is not constitutionally protected as it can be obtained under the “third-party doctrine,” which says a person gives up privacy rights when they share information with a third party (in this case, the telecom provider). This interpretation of the law, based on the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, ignores the fact that mobile phones, which are de facto tracking beacons, did not exist when the Smith ruling was made. The court has five cases before it in which cell phone location data was obtained by police without a warrant; if they rule in favor of police, warrantless location tracking will be radically expanded. —AK

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