Is law enforcement tracking your cell phone's GPS more like intercepting a phone call or tailing someone on the street? A federal court decision says it's more like following you—which means the authorities don't need to get a warrant to find out where you are at any given time.
The case involves a marijuana courier, Melvin Skinner, whose disposable cell phone was being tracked by the Drug Enforcement Agency as he moved his cargo from Arizona to Tennessee. The DEA got a court order (not a warrant) compelling Skinner's cell phone company to share his GPS information—the release of which led to Skinner's capture and arrest.
Skinner's lawyers argued the DEA tracking his cell was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure because the location information being given off by his phone wasn't publicly available.
Two judges on the three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that Skinner did not have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" regarding his cell phone GPS data. "If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location," wrote Judge John Marshall Rogers," certainly the police can track the signal."
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