Judge: No Difference Between Cell Phone Tracking and GPS Vehicle Tracking

Judge Orenstein in the Eastern District of New York rejected each possible factual difference between GPS vehicle tracking and  historical cell phone tracking, and concluded that cell phone tracking  is just as intrusive to Americans’ reasonable expectations of privacy  in the details of their everyday lives as GPS tracking. In coming to the decision, the court’s opinion noted:

a growing recognition, at least in some courts, that  technology has progressed to the point where a person who wishes to  partake in the social, cultural, and political affairs of our society  has no realistic choice but to expose to others, if not to the public as a whole, a broad range of conduct and communications that would  previously have been deemed unquestionably private

Concluding that “[t]he Fourth Amendment cannot properly be read to  impose on our populace the dilemma of either ceding to the state any  meaningful claim to personal privacy or effectively withdrawing from a  technologically maturing society,” the court denied the government’s  application for almost two months’ worth of historical cell phone  location information that it had sought to access just by showing that  it was “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation” — a standard far short of a warrant required by the Fourth Amendment.

The same issue regarding the constitutionality of warrantless access to historical cell site location is currently pending in the 3rd  Circuit, where the ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) with the ACLU Foundation of Pennsylvania, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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