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Conviction Upheld, Nonetheless a Warrant is Required for Cell Site Location Data

06.17.14

A court ruled that the “cell site location information is within the subscriber’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation.” On June 11, 2014 the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals ruled in the US v. Davis since the evidence was found in good faith under the 1986 Stored Communications Act (SCA) (18 U.S.C. § 2703) that it upheld the 162 year sentence. Davis had appealed his sentence after being “convicted by a jury on several counts of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(1), (3), conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), and knowing possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.”

The opinion also discussed how the SCA applied:

The SCA does provide for governmental entities requiring records from communication service providers by warrant under subsection (c)(A). However, as noted above, the prosecution obtained the evidence against Davis, not by warrant under subsection (c)(A), but by order under subsection (d). As further noted above, that section does not require probable cause, but only a showing “that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the . . . records or other information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Computerworld reported that Nathan Freed Wessler, the ACLU attorney who argued the case, issued the following statement:

This opinion puts police on notice that when they want to enlist people’s cell phones as tracking devices, they must get a warrant from a judge based on probable cause. The court soundly repudiates the government’s argument that by merely using a cell phone, people somehow surrender their privacy rights…

This is an important ruling to protect privacy.

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