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Cellphones Communications Government Privacy The Courts Your Rights Online

Florida Supreme Court: Police Can't Grab Cell Tower Data Without a Warrant 114

SternisheFan writes with an excerpt from Wired with some (state-specific, but encouraging) news about how much latitude police are given to track you based on signals like wireless transmissions. The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that obtaining cell phone location data to track a person's location or movement in real time constitutes a Fourth Amendment search and therefore requires a court-ordered warrant.

The case specifically involves cell tower data for a convicted drug dealer that police obtained from a telecom without a warrant. But the way the ruling is written (.pdf), it would also cover the use of so-called "stingrays" — sophisticated technology law enforcement agencies use to locate and track people in the field without assistance from telecoms. Agencies around the country, including in Florida, have been using the technology to track suspects — sometimes without obtaining a court order, other times deliberately deceiving judges and defendants about their use of the devices to track suspects, telling judges the information came from "confidential" sources rather than disclose their use of stingrays. The new ruling would require them to obtain a warrant or stop using the devices. The American Civil Liberties Union calls the Florida ruling "a resounding defense" of the public's right to privacy.
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Florida Supreme Court: Police Can't Grab Cell Tower Data Without a Warrant

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  • by ihtoit ( 3393327 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @02:45PM (#48176865)

    I would immediately dismiss as unverifiable. There is NO WAY to prove chain of custody if you're not being given the CoC right back to and INCLUDING the source.

    • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @03:14PM (#48177011)

      Yep. There's never any reason to keep the source of information secret from the judge that issues the warrant.

  • by NixieBunny ( 859050 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @02:47PM (#48176879) Homepage
    Carrying a tracking device is not a good idea if you don't want to be tracked. Cellphones are basically tracking devices that also place phone calls and take photos of incriminating evidence.

    Leave your phone at home when doing naughty things - it will give you an alibi!
    • Leave your cellphone at home even if you aren't planning to do 'naughty' things; our government violates everyone's privacy regardless.

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      It only works as an alibi if you can force them to admit that they know where your phone was and that it was at home.

      • I do hope you all understand that if your phone is actually turned off, if won't be transmitting any kind of GPS data. Heck, it won't even be receiving & processing the GPS signals. If you don't know if your phone is really off, or suspect you're being tricked by simulate the off software, then pull the battery. If you have a sealed phone that doesn't have a removable battery and are still that paranoid, you need a different phone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Many cars are also tracking devices now too.

    • Or just do what most "criminals" I "know" do, and have multiple phones. A drawer full of cheap burners, and then your main phone with a SIM. People trade phones for "stuff" too, so having several GSM phones in a drawer is not uncommon lol.
      • I don't think it's all that wise to use the phones you got from your customers, as they are probably "interesting characters" as well.
        • not sure where all the phones come from...but he did have a vast collection of other electronics (wide screen TV's, laptops, etc) taken for barter payments.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      There is one option that is being advocated. POCSAG paging is truly one way with towers over a region transmitting numerical or alphanumeric messages and no receivers. A mobile phone with a pager module can have its GSM modem powered down by the OS and reserved only for calling back the incoming pages and voicemails at a time the user chooses. Even RMS has shown interest if the phone fulfills other requirements.
      There is the hobbyist plug-in interface being included in the neo900 phone design from the mak

  • How quaint...

  • Yeah yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @03:01PM (#48176955) Homepage Journal

    Florida Supreme Court rules that a bunch of criminals who broke the most sacred laws of the land, won't get punished for their previous crimes.

    • That reminds me, there was a recent article about a prisoner shortage [slashdot.org]. As a bonus, putting these criminals in jail will also most likely stop all this complaining about a prisoner shortage.

      • Re:Yeah yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dcollins117 ( 1267462 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @05:24PM (#48177545)

        As a bonus, putting these criminals in jail will also most likely stop all this complaining about a prisoner shortage.

        I have a better idea. Why don't we put police who routinely break the law by conducting warrantless searches in the vacant jail cells. Two birds, one stone.

        • I guess you didn't understand which criminals I was talking about. Hint: police can commit crimes. And this article is about an illegal activity police have been committing.

          • Agreed. However, it is unfortunate that the ones that should arrest them are the police, and the police won't arrest the police unless they have no choice.
            On top of that, at this current juncture they'll do the whole "but I thought it was legal" argument, and because they are police, it will be hand-waved away.
            • Ignorance of the law has never been an excuse, in tradition dating back thousands of years. Though nowadays everyone including the judge and lawyers are ignorant of the law an it is not humanly possible to know all the law. Anyhow, who ever heard of a thief getting off because he claims he didn't know *stealing jewelry while wearing a tuxedo* was illegal (the law never mentions jewelry specifically nor tuxedos, does it?), and promised from now on he won't do exactly that? That's about as believable as those

        • Two birds, one stone, ten mice, one cat, one bell.

      • by tqk ( 413719 )

        As a bonus, putting these criminals in jail will also most likely stop all this complaining about a prisoner shortage.

        Geez, and I was so hoping they'd be recycled as homeless shelters.

        • Geez, and I was so hoping they'd be recycled as homeless shelters.

          That was one of the uses for prisons while they were still open, though they were more exclusive (ie, required applicants to commit some sort of crime to be allowed in).

          • by tqk ( 413719 )

            Well, there you go. They're ideally suited. Poke some holes in the roofs to let out the smoke from cooking/heating fires, and maybe you non-homeless will never see or hear from them again. Win-win? Add solar panels to the roof and they can charge their iBaubles, post on /., hack facebook or crack banks; fun for all! Hey, maybe you can conscript them to attack Best Korea and ISIS, or fly drones for the military!

            You don't even have to pay the cops to get them there. They'll volunteer to live there!

    • The bunch of criminals were not on trial.

      Also, the fact that this made it to the state Supreme Court means it was not obviously a crime when it was done.

      If you can catch Florida law enforcement doing it now, you would have a really good case for a lawsuit.

      Much as it would simplify things, the world does not work the way you think/wish it does.

      • Re:Yeah yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

        by The Ickle Jones ( 3869681 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @04:45PM (#48177403)

        If you can catch Florida law enforcement doing it now, you would have a really good case for a lawsuit.

        Yeah, but would anyone actually be punished? Merely forcing the taxpayers to hand over money isn't as good as imprisoning the ones responsible for violating people's liberties.

      • Not obviously a crime?? Do the FL police not have a copy of the constitution handy? You know that thing they promise to uphold. Frankly the judges that were lied to should be charging these people with criminal contempt of court since it's something within their power. Yes that means less bad cops and lawyers.

        We need the cops to be told parallel construction etc etc is never OK. If they can not reveal the means then they can not use the means is pretty simple. If they fear people finding about what/ho

      • The fact that it made it to the state supreme court means their lawyers weren't willing to give in until all possible means of making it go away were exhausted.
        • Good point, but now you've made me think that the police aren't so bad for trying. They want every tool they can get their hands on to do their job, which is maintain law and order; hard to hate them for that.

          It's not supposed to be up to them, it's up to us, to tell them which tools are off limits. Right off the top of my head: Fighter jets, nukes, and mass surveillance are right off limits for police work...

          And 'us', should mean more legislative, and less court action. I think we are really lazy lately ab

          • The police are wrong for trying.

            They want every tool, no one can fault that. It is not up to them, it is up to the courts to tell them which tools are off limits. It is not up to "us". If you think otherwise, you do not understand how law in this land works. The things you mentioned are definitely off limits for police.

            Us? If you mean "the people", then us are not elected. Us meaning the legislators? We don't legislate, we elect the legislators.

            The courts deciding the law is a FUNDAMENTAL separation o

  • by whistlingtony ( 691548 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @03:34PM (#48177091)

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    I consider my phone to be "papers and effects" pretty heavily. Everyone does. That this was even a question is pretty annoying.

    • by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @03:52PM (#48177171)
      You'd be mistaken! The founders meant actual, physical paper (made from wood pulp, no vellum or papyrus!) when they said "papers" and "effects" to specifically mean snuff boxes. Law enforcement are merely constitutional purists.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ranpel ( 1255408 )
        What about "secure in their persons"? I'm pretty certain that my person should not be searched. That would include where I've been in order to determine where I'm going and where I am at any moment.. The government having access to this type of information at will does not make me secure from much of anything. As a direct result of my person being then where my person has been, in near totality, should not be a source of information accessible by government without a warrant. I can't see how any reason
        • by tqk ( 413719 )

          The government having access to this type of information at will does not make me secure from much of anything.

          This is what we get for letting lawyers take control of civilization. We should have stuck with the poets (Vaclav Hamel), scientists (Hypathia, Archimedes, ... (too many to mention)), and philosophers (Aristotle).

          We get what we deserve. We should take it all back, before we no longer can.

      • by tqk ( 413719 )

        The founders meant actual, physical paper (made from wood pulp, no vellum or papyrus!) when they said "papers" and "effects" to specifically mean snuff boxes. Law enforcement are merely constitutional purists.

        Sorry if that's a joke and I didn't get it (that happens to me a lot, as many here can attest).

        I'm pretty sure they (founders & etc.) couldn't care less about their blank (yet to be used) "paper", whatever it was made from[*].

        They were trying to protect ideas and opinions which had been committed to paper. G. Washington was a cryptographer and spymaster. It astonishes me that present day LEOs apparently don't know this. I'm a Canuck, and I know it. What's their excuse? Public school educations?

        [*] A

        • The joke is that those very arguments of specificity are often made about the second amendment, while other clauses and amendments are assumed to be broadly protective of the people's liberty.

      • Just because the founders were ignorant of the technological standards that would exist a couple of centuries later by no means indicates that they were excluding different formats from their rules. Hell, they didn't say cuneiform clay tablets, but you can damn well bet that they would have raised holy hell if someone were using that particular medium of recording information and some dumbass tried to snoop into them because they aren't made from dead trees.
    • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @04:08PM (#48177225)

      I agree. But that has nothing directly to do with this. Your phone is not being searched, it's regularly broadcasting its identity for the world to hear as part of it's normal function - it has to so that the cell company can determine which tower is closest and route your calls accordingly. That routing information then makes it trivial to determine at roughly where your phone is at all times. The cops are then requesting that information from the phone company and/or using stingrays to track your radio broadcast directly. *Your* papers and effects are never searched, the phone company is simply transferring *their* operational logs about you to the to the police.

      The problem of course is that they are using that information as a substitute for invasive electronic tracking devices that generally would require a warrant. The courts then have to decide whether it's the technical details or the functional results that are more significant, and I think they made the right call.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's much the same as when the police were told that they had to stop using infrared imaging cameras to see inside houses. Hey - the house is leaking heat, which they were just viewing from off the property. The house was not being searched, they were just using technology to see what you were showing the world!

      • by The Ickle Jones ( 3869681 ) on Saturday October 18, 2014 @04:53PM (#48177435)

        I agree. But that has nothing directly to do with this.

        Wrong. The spirit of the constitution is very much relevant here. In today's world, you have little choice but to hand over information to at least a few companies. If the government is allowed to get any information from any company without even so much as a warrant, then no one can have any reasonable degree of privacy without making great sacrifices. That is unreasonable.

        When the fourth takes about "papers," it doesn't literally seek to protect the paper itself, but the information contained on the papers. I'd say protecting people's information is very relevant here.

        • The spirit is relevant, yes, but these days the question of whether it's still actually alive seems to vary on a ruling by ruling basis these days. You can't even count on the letter of the constitution to be utterly reliable.

      • by tqk ( 413719 ) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Saturday October 18, 2014 @07:48PM (#48178077)

        Translation: "We live in a police state. Deal with it. Happy now?"

        Information is power.

        • by tqk ( 413719 )

          Damn. I'm a bit conflicted.

          Mods, thanks for the upvotes. On the other hand, it's a little sad that got upvoted. On the third (?) hand, yeah, but it's a correct and true statement ("Information is power."). On the fourth (!!!!!) hand, damn, it's nice to see that Game of Thrones AC modded down to zero. "Power is power!", my ass! I hope I'm not getting to deep for you. I often tend toward that, sorry. Meh.

          May I say, GoT really sucks! Vampires and monsters, rapes at the drop of a hat, Machiavellian tyr

      • I regularly send papers to my lawyer. I regularly send papers to a LOT of people, and those papers are protected. My phone regularly broadcasts to my lawyer. I regularly broadcast stuff to a LOT of people, and those broadcasts SHOULD be protected, but aren't.

        Luckily, yes, the courts made the right decision for once. Somehow this happened in Florida of all places. Who knew?

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      That is so cute that you are able to quote some random text that is meaningless, unless people act upon it.
      So when are you going to act upon it?

      As long as it is not enforced, it means nothing. I am sure that I could find relevant quotes in other random texts that would be relevant, but mean nothing because we do not act on it.

      If a kid steals a cookie and all you do is saying that he should not steal the cookie and that he is a very bad boy, he will take the next one. If a dog defacates in the houde and all

  • Stingray (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 18, 2014 @04:08PM (#48177239)

    Why do they want to hide what the Stingray can do when people think they already know what it does? Because it allows them to do a lot more than just track a cell phone in an area.

    At the lowest level of LTE the provider can take control of the phone at a lower level than the operating system. Thus there is a tremendous amount of access to what the phone has other than location. They can turn on the microphone and listen and access other phone capabilities which makes it a much more powerful tool than just knowing the location of a handset or person in an area.

    It does allow knowledge of the location down to meters and the number of active devices and locations within an area. This allows the operator to know how many people are in a building and map their locations and movements in real time.

    • by koan ( 80826 )

      In order to do that the cell phone companies would have to design them that way.

      Which explains things like Apples SSL coding "error".

    • Re:Stingray (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tqk ( 413719 ) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Saturday October 18, 2014 @08:57PM (#48178299)

      At the lowest level of LTE the provider can take control of the phone at a lower level than the operating system.

      I was just reading a story about the "Citizen Four" (Snowden) documentary. He worries they can quietly enable VOIP phones' mics. That's hardware; OS level stuff; "root/administrator" access. Considering their NSL access (to AT&T, et al), they have full control of anything they want to control of things you think you own.

      If they can turn on the mic to listen in, surely they can read and slurp anything stored on the thing, and bolted on after the fact crypto isn't going to protect anything.

      Orwell was a piker. But then, he wasn't a Musolini, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Mugabe, Abdulaziz, Stalin, Assad, ... (have I missed any? Oh yeah, Netanyahu, ...) nor a US president.

      The Nazis won, because our democratically elected leaders adopted their methods.

  • 4 The People ? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 )
    My guess is that our government wants drugs to be sold and that those in charge of the system somehow gain either money or position by making such a decision. There is a balance of rights and the simple truth is that almost all crimes involve drugs or alcohol. Even the right to drive to work without being slaughtered by some drunk or stoned fool driving a car or truck is more basic that data from cell phone towers being private. Frankly our country has done so little to
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "other times deliberately deceiving judges and defendants"

    "All warfare is based on deception." - Sun Tzu

    What we have is a National Security State at war with the domestic population.

    • by koan ( 80826 )

      Which begs the question "Who do they actually work for?"

      • The Reptoids, or whatever conspiracy theory suits one's fancy.

        Or, it could be a bit more simple than that and they're just working for themselves and their own power.

        • by koan ( 80826 )

          See you could have just written the second part, but you needed to throw in the insult.
          So lets look at your premise, you think they (more than one person) are are working for themselves and their own power, which would mean they (more than one person) are coordinating this power grab, and since the outcome is detrimental to our country I think it's safe to say your premise meets this definition.
          noun: conspiracy; plural noun: conspiracies

          a secret plan by a g

  • I would just like to say /. needs a new icon for cellphone stories. The current one looks more like a calculator, even if its tooltip disagrees. I think maybe it ought to be one of those goofy looking bricks with an antenna we used to see sitting in the middle of tables last century.

    However (careful what you wish for), please don't use an iBauble instead. That'd just be flamebait.

    Carry on. Just a suggestion.

  • If it's truly a 4th amendment issue then it applies everywhere in the US.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Should say, "police, and military" require a warrant. because the NSA, and US military, they will keep on doing this even though a warrant is required first. they will nab it, save it, analyze it with algorithms like Google does, and apply all sorts of filters to sort through it automatically.

    because the militaries operations are hidden from the courts, they will get to keep doing it and the court will pretend a warrant is required for it's use but that only ends up applying IN COURT IF YOU ARE PROSECUTED A

  • As a Grand Juror... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 18, 2014 @09:44PM (#48178449)
    ...I've seen evidence from cell phone towers subpoenaed for an investigation. It's pretty interesting - they used surveillance camera photos from several establishments, including the one involved in the crime, but also spent a lot of time proving that the phones belonging to the targets of the investigation were in proximity to the crime as it was being committed.

    And I don't think there's much oversight. I see a lot of opinions from the parties involved that, "well, it's just an indictment. If there's something unfair about this, it'll come out at the trial." I suspect my fellow jurors would indict the suspect who police handcuffed *after* they shot him to death, if the AUSA asked them.

    Sleep well, citizens! (Posted anonymously for obvious reasons.)
  • Florida has long been known as a right wing stronghold. They reversed the election that lead to Bush2 being elected. They routinely fight to eliminate the poor and potentially Democrat voters from elections.

    That their Supreme Court chose this path is refreshing. Let's hope that there is a trend among the Florida political elite toward respect for those who are not wealthy, those who deserve justice.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]