updated 10:20 pm EST, Thu November 17, 2011
Brief order points to the Fourth Amendment
United States District Judge Lynn Hughes has issued an order that bars law enforcement agencies from obtaining cellphone tracking data without first obtaining a warrant. The judge argues that the government cannot use the Stored Communications Act as a legal justification to force cellular carriers to relinquish cellphone location data without probable cause.
"When the government requests records from cellular services, data disclosing the location of the telephone at the time of particular calls may be acquired only by a warrant issued on probable cause," Judge Hughes writes in a concise order. "These data are constitutionally protected from this intrusion."
Proponents of warrantless access claim that the Stored Communications Act, which covers certain types of electronic communication records, eliminates the need to show probable cause if an agency seeks location tied to cellphone calls. The arguments hinge on the idea that users give up a reasonable expectation of privacy when they obtain service from a third-party company such as a cellular carrier.
Judge Hughes disagrees with the law enforcement agencies, however, arguing that "the standard under the Stored Communications Act is below that required by the Constitution." [via Wall Street Journal (sub. required)]