Police can track your cell phone location history without a warrant

Ruling on cell phone tracking
Warrants? Police don't need no stinkin' warrants

You don't really need that cell phone or own the location data that comes with using such a device, reasoned a federal appeals court this week.

This resulted in a 2-1 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas which found that law enforcement isn't required to obtain search warrant to access your cell phone records, noted the AP.

Instead, police need a less stringent court order in which they only need to demonstrate "reasonable grounds" to access cell site tower location information.

It overturns a previous ruling out of Houston in which a federal judge maintained that this form of cell phone data is constitutionally protected from search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

The reasoning behind the ruling

Digging into the district court's decision, the concurring opinion held that "cell site information is clearly a business record."

"[A] cell service provider collects and stores historical cell site data for its own business purposes, perhaps to monitor or optimize service on its network or to accurately bill its customers for the segments of its network that they use."

Since the government doesn't require or hasn't pursued service providers to store this historical data, ipso facto, law enforcement is off the hook when it comes to Fourth Amendment violations.

"In the case of such historical cell site information, the government merely comes in after the fact and asks a provider to turn over records the provider has already created."

Then there's the line in the full text of the ruling that customers "use of their phones, moreover, is entirely voluntary," business records and all.

Matt Swider