The U. S. government must get a warrant to access wireless provider records, according to Monday's ruling by a United States District Judge.
Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York ruled that the U. S. federal government was not within it rights to request nearly four months' worth of location data from Verizon without a warrant.
Judge Garaufis' decision upheld a previous denial of the request by Magistrate Judge James Orenstein at the end of last year. Judge Orenstein wrote that granting the request would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, while the government argued that the Stored Communications Act grants law enforcement access to such data when it is relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.
The data was registered to and used by an individual who was the target of a criminal investigation, according to the government's request, and the data included the location of the cell towers at the beginning and the end of calls or text message transmissions for a period of at least 113 days.
Judge Garaufis pointed out that because more and more people use cell phones around the clock, cellular service providers have records of the geographic location of almost every American at almost every time of day and night.
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And under current statutes and law enforcement practices, these records can be obtained without a search warrant and its requisite showing of probable cause... at all times, our physical movements are being monitored and recorded, and once the Government can make a showing of less-than-probable-cause, it may obtain these records of our movements, study the map our lives, and learn the many things we reveal about ourselves through our physical presence.
Judge Garaufis tackled the controversial question of whether people voluntarily give up their privacy when they utilize a third-party (in this case, Verizon). The traditional defense has been that the actual conversation is not being monitored, so location data is more akin to the addresses on an envelope placed in the mail -- which is not considered protected speech under the Fourth Amendment.
This court concludes that cumulative cell-site-location records implicate sufficiently serious protected privacy concerns that an exception to the third-party-disclosure doctrine should apply to them, as it does to content, to prohibit undue governmental intrusion, wrote the Judge. In order to prevent the Fourth Amendment from losing force in the face of changing technology, Fourth Amendment doctrine has evolved throughout time and must continue to do so.
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