Court rules that police may track cell phone locations without warrant.
US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia ruled several weeks ago that investigators don’t need to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to access a suspect’s location history that’s logged by cell phone towers. The judge based his opinion upon the supposition that mobile phones are equivalent to wired communications. His ruling conflicts with a federal appeals court ruling from last year that rejected federal government claims that it didn’t need a search warrant to track suspects using GPS location-tracking devices.
Judge Lamberth ruled that under previous court rulings governing wire communications, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers a customer dials using a landline. According to him, cell phones are similar: cellular customers have no privacy expectation for data their handsets transmit to nearby towers. The industry refers to this data as CSLI (Cell-Site Location Information).
I wanted to write about this ruling weeks ago because it will have a profound effect on our privacy. It appears that this issue will continue to bounce around in the courts for a while. These conflicting opinions may be settled by legislation. In the meantime, if you want to prevent your cell phone’s location from being tracked, turn off your cell phone. If you really want to prevent your cell phone from being tracked, remove its battery.