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Newest Gov't Tracking Threat: Cell-Site Data Without a Warrant 107

An anonymous reader writes "Earlier this year, the Supreme Court put an end to warrantless GPS tracking. Now, federal prosecutors are trying to get similar data from a different source. A U.S. District Judge has ruled that getting locational data from cell towers in order to track suspects is just fine. '[Judge Huvelle] sidestepped the Fourth Amendment argument and declined to analyze whether the Supreme Court's ruling in Jones' case has any bearing on whether cell-site data can be used without a warrant. Instead, she focused on a doctrine called the "good-faith exemption," in which evidence is not suppressed if the authorities were following the law at the time. The data in Jones' case was coughed up in 2005, well before the Supreme Court's ruling on GPS. "The court, however, need not resolve this vexing question of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, since it concludes that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies," (.PDF) she wrote. ... With that, prosecutors are legally in the clear to use Jones’ phone location records without a warrant.'"
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Newest Gov't Tracking Threat: Cell-Site Data Without a Warrant

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  • Current Trend (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @10:08AM (#42336053)

    This has been going on for years in law enforcement. For a minimal fee, agencies or officers fax a request or use an online-portal to access the requested information from the provider...all without a warrant. Info that is commonly available is tower data, phone calls, texts, tapping, and a "special request" section. This is all given up to an officer without a warrant. All major cellular carriers participate.

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @10:24AM (#42336167) Journal

    The difference is that a court order need still comply with the 4th Amendment. A court order is not a warrant.

    A warrant is a specific legal document with a specific legal purpose - to allow government to set aside your right to be secure in your person, papers, and effects, when there is probable cause to believe you have committed a crime; and with the express purpose of allowing that right to be set aside only for the express purposes outlined in the warrant - to search a specific place for a specific thing.

    Even a warrant that says "law enforcement can search this house for any evidence of any crime" is non-compliant. A warrant must outline specifically the place to be searched and the things to be seized. Any evidence not specifically called out on the warrant may not be seized, and if it is, may not be admitted as evidence.

    A court order is simply a mandate from a judge that a particular party do a particular thing. A judge cannot order a person or company to violate the rights of a third party, as a means to circumvent the protections in the bill of rights (although this is the latest modus operandi from our criminal government).

  • by __aajgon4133 ( 1044620 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:40AM (#42336823)

    This is not actually true. If the warrant in your example was obtained based on a deliberate deception it would be invalid and the evidence from the search would not come in. If what you suggest was the case, there would be basically no point to the exclusionary rule since the police could freely lie in affidavits and have the warrants (or at least the evidence obtained from their execution) upheld.

    The good faith exception is easy to apply if you consider the purpose of the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule exists to deter unlawful police conduct.

    Consider the situation where the police request a warrant in good faith, and it is issued by a detached and neutral magistrate. On appeal, the affidavit is found to lack probable cause. Should the evidence be suppressed? The Supreme Court says no, because the police acted in complete good faith. There was no misconduct involved and applying the exclusionary rule in situations like this would not further its purpose since there is no unlawful conduct to deter. This is the proper application of the good faith exception.

    By contrast, excluding evidence obtained by lying in an affidavit for a warrant would have a very pronounced effect on reducing unlawful behavior by the police. Thus, no good faith exception for your dishonest detective. (Actually, he may be looking at a perjury prosecution.)

    Law school ruined Law and Order for me. My wife can't stand me explaining why everything on the show is wrong. Also she hates it when I yell "Objection!!" at the screen every few minutes during the second half of the show.

  • by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:38PM (#42337329)

    Everyday, it seems, someone wants to watch me, be it government or websites that track my movements across the web. Short of pulling the plug or exerting massive amounts of proxy, mixmaster, VPS expensive nonsense, I'm about ready to just live and not worry about it. Actually, corporations are more likely to keep me awake at night than government. When there is money to be made, you can bet they will stop at nothing to achieve their sinister goals.

    For the most part you can just live your life. If you are just going about daily business you have little to fear. The problem arises if and when you want to make a significant change to the status quo. Say you want to join the Occupy movement, or advocate against hydraulic fracking, or agitate for criminal proceedings against Wall Street felons. These new law enforcement abilities will be used against you to preserve that status quo that so many powerful people benefit so much from.

    Question: What do people do with all that wealth. How many cars or nice houses does it take? How many islands, how many women in your wake suing? Why cannot people be content with normal?

    At a certain level it becomes not about wealth but power. Money talks in the US like nothing else. If you have enough money, you can have a hand in shaping society to be the way you want it to be; no election necessary. You can buy ad time on TV to broadcast the message you want. You can fund foundations and think tanks to do the work and write policy papers reflecting your point of view. You can fund political campaigns and make demands of the Congresspeople you help elect. You can hire lobbyists for similar purposes. Hell, you can break the law and get away with it by hiring a legal dream team, or better yet getting your Congressman buddy to squash the investigation.

    Like you said, at a certain level you don't care about Ferraris and private islands anymore. You've got 6 of each already. You turn your attention to making society the way you want it to be, and for your own interests. Have your ever wanted to remake the world according to your own image? If you had $50 billion you could start doing it.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"