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Privacy Cellphones The Courts United States

New Jersey Supreme Court Restricts Police Searches of Phone Data 31

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-least-one-branch-of-government-is-on-our-side dept.
An anonymous reader sends this quote from the NY Times: "Staking out new ground in the noisy debate about technology and privacy in law enforcement, the New Jersey Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that the police will now have to get a search warrant before obtaining tracking information from cellphone providers. The ruling (PDF) puts the state at the forefront of efforts to define the boundaries around a law enforcement practice that a national survey last year showed was routine, and typically done without court oversight or public awareness. With lower courts divided on the use of cellphone tracking data, legal experts say, the issue is likely to end up before the United States Supreme Court. The New Jersey decision also underscores the extent of the battles over government intrusion into personal data in a quickly advancing digital age, from small town police departments to the National Security Agency's surveillance of e-mail and cellphone conversations."
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New Jersey Supreme Court Restricts Police Searches of Phone Data

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday July 19, 2013 @09:41AM (#44326827)

    You pull out an NSA. We pull out a Supreme Court ruling. THAT's the New Jersey way. You gotta problem with that buddy?

    • A New Jersey Supreme Court ruling probably won't have much effect on the NSA.

      • by plover (150551)

        A New Jersey Supreme Court ruling probably won't have much effect on the NSA.

        No, but it might have a more direct and beneficial effect on New Jersey citizens. So far, the NSA isn't in the habit of pounding down doors at dark o'clock themselves, and they have been leaving the police work of tracking down criminals to the local police forces. This just ensures the police are following the rules.

        The other good thing about this is that any police work done that follows procedures and obtains these warrants will not be challenged in court.

        • by alen (225700)

          maybe because the NSA is a geek agency? their job is signal and electronic intelligence. not armed agents enforcing the law

          • by sjames (1099)

            Irrelevant. The fact remains that they depend on police to do the physical work and those police WILL be affected by the NJ Supreme Court in the state of NJ.

            All the NSA guys can do is sputter impotently if the police won't act.

        • Why would the cops not just get the data from the FBI/NSA instead?

          The data has been legally acquired [so they claim], so surely the local police are permitted to get investigative information from the FBI.

          It's like when the NSA gets the UKs secret service to spy on American's for them [and vice verse] to make it "legal", only on a more local scale.

    • by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday July 19, 2013 @09:59AM (#44326993)
      This ruling is for the police, not the NSA.
      • by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Friday July 19, 2013 @10:04AM (#44327039) Journal

        This ruling is for the police, not the NSA.

        Yeah, and an important step. What we saw in the UK, regarding these "anti-terrorist" data gathering exercises was local police and government using them at the drop of a hat. At least removing them from the equation fixes part of the problem, and hopefully prevents New Jersey police from tackling car insurance cases by using the same tools applied to international terrorists.

        • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:07PM (#44328615)

          At least removing them from the equation fixes part of the problem, and hopefully prevents New Jersey police from tackling car insurance cases by using the same tools applied to international terrorists.

          This is the right attitude. New Jersey is telling the Federal government that there are some lines you just don't cross. They can't stop them from expanding their reach and handing out privacy-invading laws and tools... but they can say no. It's called judicial restraint, and it's neither politically fashionable nor popular right now... which makes it all the more remarkable when it happens.

  • There has to obviously be an exception to the rule to allow for exigent circumstances, like when someone is kidnapped or they are trying to locate an active shooter.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      There has to obviously be an exception to the rule to allow for exigent circumstances, like when someone is kidnapped or they are trying to locate an active shooter.

      well.. that's the same as not needing a warrant for entering a house a shooter is shooting from I suppose. you're already going to arrest the guy in those cases too, regardless of what the tracking will tell you.

    • by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Friday July 19, 2013 @10:16AM (#44327155) Journal

      There has to obviously be an exception to the rule to allow for exigent circumstances, like when someone is kidnapped or they are trying to locate an active shooter.

      Definitely - this comes down to probable cause.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probable_cause [wikipedia.org]

      It should be very specific and justified, which is something that needs to be permissible. What needs to go away are the fishing expeditions and general riffling through personal data for persons where there is no probable cause. Probable cause shouldn't even require a warrant if there's an immediate threat. However it should only apply when there are criminal charges in mind, and a suspect. i.e. tracking a kidnap victims cellphone is demonstrably different to pulling phone location for people without reasonable grounds to consider criminal charges against these particular people.

      Privacy expectations aside, it's not too difficult to build up a solid list of criteria under which it would be reasonable to pry. For one, firemen don't get charged with breaking and entering when they kick down a door to search a burning house. It's quite clear though that this doesn't mean fireman can go kick down the door of any given house without reason to suspect a fire or similar emergency within their remit.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There has to obviously be an exception to the rule to allow for exigent circumstances

      No, there doesn't. Just because my "papers" are now "on a cellphone", that doesn't mean we throw out all the rules regarding literal papers stored in a briefcase, and introduce a whole new set of less stringent rules that grant the government far more access than they had with literal papers stored in a briefcase.

      I really, really hope you did not mean that the way I interpreted it.

    • If you are a LEO and you have a judge that more or less likes you you could call said judge up AT HOME and say " sorry to bother you Sir but i have Bob coming over with a warrant you need to sign...."

      with a decent E-Warrant system you wouldn't even need to have Bob go over for the sig.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Exigent circumstances do not eliminate the need for probable cause. They only save you time standing in front of a judge. If there is no probable cause, anything you found during your search is inadmissible in court.

  • You mean law enforcement has to follow the law? That's terrible news!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Damn those activist judges!

  • If this goes to the Supreme Court, I can't see this doing anything other than establishing that the police have the power to request this data without a warrant at will. Smith v. Maryland (1979) established that police do not need a warrant for pen register data (the record of who you were calling and when), because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when you voluntarily transmit that data to a third party (the phone company). Note that this is different from the *content* of your calls -- wire

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