Fifth Circuit rules warrant not required to track cell phones Elizabeth LaForgia at 10:15 AM ET
[JURIST] The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that probable-cause warrants are not required to access cell phone location information. In a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit reversed lower court decisions that said the location data was protected by the Fourth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The court stated that warrantless access is "not per se unconstitutional" because mobile location data is "clearly a business record" and therefore unprotected by the Fourth Amendment. Authorities were requesting cellphone data under the Stored Communications Act [Cornell LII backgrounder], part of the Electronics Communications Privacy Act, which the court stated gives authorities the option of obtaining a court order, but does not require the higher standard necessary for a search warrant. The Fifth Circuit is the third federal appeals court to allow authorities to track mobile devices without a warrant.
Courts and lawmakers remain divided on what types of warrants are required to perform cell phone searches. Last week the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that police must obtain search warrants before obtaining tracking information from cell phone providers, marking the first time a state supreme court has recognized a Fourth Amendment protection for cell phone location data. Earlier this month the Maine Legislature [official website] voted in favor [JURIST report] of a new law requiring police to obtain a warrant to track a cell phone. In May the Florida Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that police need a warrant [JURIST report] to search a defendant's cell phone at the time of arrest. In 2012 the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that a warrantless search [JURIST report] of a suspect's cell phone to collect its phone number does not constitute a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.