Appeals court: No warrant needed to access cell location data

A U.S. appeals court overturned a ruling last year that law enforcement authorities must obtain a warrant to access a suspect's location.
A U.S. appeals court overturned a ruling last year that law enforcement authorities must obtain a warrant to access a suspect's location.

A U.S. appeals court overturned a ruling from  last year that law enforcement authorities must obtain a warrant to access a suspect's location.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police can obtain suspects' cell-site information from wireless carriers without a warrant, since users “voluntarily” share location information with their provider.

The federal appeals court, located in Richmond, Virginia, voted in a 12-3 decision to overturn last year's opinion from an appellate panel of the same court.

“A cell phone user voluntarily enters an arrangement with his service provider in which he knows that he must maintain proximity to the provider's cell towers in order for his phone to function,” Judge Diana Motz wrote, Judge Diana Motz wrote for the majority.

In April, a three-member panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling. In that opinion Judge Raymond Kethledge stated that a warrant is not required for law enforcement to obtain cell phone location data because “courts have not (yet, at least) extended… protections to the Internet analogue to envelope markings, namely the metadata used to route Internet communications, like sender and recipient addresses on an email, or IP addresses.”

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