The government and police regularly use location data pulled off of cell phone towers to put criminals at the scenes of crimes—often without a warrant. Well, an appeals court ruled today that the practice is unconstitutional, in one of the strongest judicial defenses of technology privacy rights we’ve seen in a while.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the government illegally obtained and used Quartavious Davis’s cell phone location data to help convict him in a string of armed robberies in Miami and unequivocally stated that cell phone location information is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
“In short, we hold that cell site location information is within the subscriber’s reasonable expectation of privacy,” the court ruled in an opinion written by Judge David Sentelle. “The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation.”
Sentelle is a Reagan appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, generally considered to be the second most important court after the Supremes, so the decision will likely be considered to be precedential.