Quoted: on warrantless tracking of suspects’ cell phones

“When criminals use modern technological devices to carry out criminal acts and to reduce the possibility of detection, they can hardly complain when the police take advantage of the inherent characteristics of those very devices to catch them.”

Judge John Rogers, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 ruling (PDF) allowing warrantless tracking of suspects using cell phones’ GPS technology. The decision upholds a 20-year sentence for a man who transported drugs between Arizona and Tennessee, according to the Hill’s Hillicon Valley blog and Wired. Using cell-phone tracking, DEA agents caught Melvin Skinner in Texas. The Supreme Court ruled in January against warrantless GPS tracking in a case involving police installing a GPS device on a suspect’s car. But in this case, the judges did not deem the tracking as invasive because “no physical intrusion occurred.” Groups such as the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation disagree. “Contrary to the court’s alarming conclusion, Americans do not forfeit their privacy rights in their movements by choosing to carry a cell phone,” said Catherine Crump of the ACLU, according to Hillicon Valley. As we mentioned earlier this month on GMSV, the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., aims to require a warrant before using a suspect’s mobile-phone location data.


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  • Sam Griffith Jr

    Ms.Crump of the ACLU is wrong inner assertion. Anyone who uses a device with GPS had better expect that they can be tracked. That was and is one of the primary purposes of the defense funding of the original GPS systems and seeing as how the government is still the provider and funder of the GPS systems used by most all mobile devices, anyone who thinks that they have the right for that info not to be utilized doesn’t understand the trade offs you accept when accepting “free” help and services from your government. If you want privacy then utilize and pay for a privately funded commercial GPS provider. Or another governments who you distrust less. I hear China has their own GPS system…

  • Bryan

    Of course the screamingly obvious logical fallacy and gaping ethical hole in Rogers’ argument is the conflation of “suspect” with “criminal,” but that’s a favorite conservative game and hardly surprising.

    What’s shocking is how Americans fall for it this shell game, again and again. Or has the World’s Greatest Nation finally revoked “innocent until proven guilty” in statute as well as in practice? Certainly, having thrown habeas corpus out the window, embraced torture, and assigned corporations more rights than individuals, anything at all is possible in the good ol’ US of A.

  • Charles J. Boyle

    If you don’t want to be tracked, use the “off” button. It’s off on my phone…

  • You can’t turn anything off except the voluntary button. All the other involuntary tracking remains active.

  • dermbuilder

    The only way not to be tracked is to use a dumbphone instead of a smartphone. Smartest of all if you don’t want to be tracked is a “burnphone” bought at retail with cash, not credit card, and remember to also buy reload cards with cash.

  • dl

    Turn off Location also