Constitutional Law

Judge Requires Probable Cause for Cell Phone Location Information

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A federal judge has ruled the government needs a warrant based on probable cause to obtain information about the geographical movements of a cell phone customer in a drug investigation.

The opinion is the first by a federal judge on the issue, the Washington Post reports. The decision by U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry of Pittsburgh affirmed a magistrate judge’s February decision (PDF posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation).

In her February ruling, Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan observed that such search requests are “particularly vulnerable to abuse” given the “extraordinarily personal and potentially sensitive” nature of the information sought, the ex parte nature of the search request, and the low cost of requesting the information.

Jennifer Granick, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the decision “a great ruling for location privacy and for people who think the government should have probable cause before they track you.”

The government had maintained that it need only show a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity rather than probable cause.

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