Court rules your cellphone may not have to give up its location data to the feds

Summary:Should investigators be required to get a search warrant before extracting your location data from your cellular phone? New ruling says... sorta.

Like most modern Americans, I am generally never more than an arm's-length reach from my cellular phone. That means there's often a very high correlation between the location of a cell phone and the location of its owner.

Government investigators have apparently found this correlation quite valuable, and have engaged in a number of cases where they used cell phone location data to track and/or prosecute American citizens.

The interesting issue here is whether the government had the right to get at that data. The feds contended that since location data is normally held at the carrier, citizens don't have an expectation of privacy with regard to location.

Rather than seeking a judge's permission to get at the data, the equivalent of asking for a search warrant, law enforcement officials merely demanded phone location data from carriers and were given it.

The implications for privacy and due process are clearly apparent.

See also: I just want to give the EFF a great, big smootchy-smootch!

Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation were all over the cell phone tracking debate, and yesterday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled courts may require search warrants for cell phone location records.

This is a huge win for privacy advocates.

Now, to be clear, this ruling doesn't say the courts MUST require warrants, but it does -- at least -- give judges the option if they feel it's, um, warranted.

Good job, EFF!

What does your phone know about you that you wouldn't want anyone to know about? Tell all below!

Topics: Telcos, Hardware, Mobility


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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