EFF says warrants for phone location data should be mandatory

The Electronic Frontier Foundation  filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States over the need for police to obtain a search warrant before receiving Americans’ cell phone locatio
The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States over the need for police to obtain a search warrant before receiving Americans’ cell phone locatio

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday over the need for police to obtain a search warrant before receiving Americans' cell phone location data.

The brief pertains to Davis v. U.S., a federal criminal case from Florida, that involved police getting 67 days' worth of phone records about the defendant, Quartavious Davis. 

Although the case hasn't yet proceeded to the Supreme Court, the EFF's request followed a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit earlier this year. That ruling said Davis couldn't expect privacy in historical cell site records. Put more simply: police didn't need a search warrant to obtain his location data.

The controversial data comes from cell phone towers, to which all phones connect for service.

The EFF writes that as cell phones and smartphones “permeate society,” certain courts and legislatures have recognized people's concerns over their location data, especially considering they often keep their devices within at least five feet of them.

Because of this, “contrary to the Eleventh Circuit's conclusion, it is reasonable to expect that cell site location information will be kept private,” the brief stated.

More than anything, this case, coupled with a separate but similar one, United States v. Graham, demonstrates the need for a Supreme Court decision, Hanni Fakhoury, senior staff attorney at EFF, wrote in an email to SCMagazine.com.

The Graham case left off at an opposite decision. In early August, a Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant before seeking people's historical cell phone location data.

Both cases pertained to alleged robberies, with one case based in Florida and the other in Maryland.

Fakhoury noted that because Davis had already requested the Supreme Court to review his case, the Court will “have its first opportunity to weigh in on his case.”

“I think Supreme Court review is likely to come soon,” he said. “Of course, it's hard to predict with these things.”

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