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DOJ Needs Warrant To Track Your Cell's GPS History

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the where-did-you-go-and-who-did-you-go-there-with dept.

The Courts 122

MacRonin recommends a press release over at the EFF on their recent court victory affirming that cell phone location data is protected by the Fourth Amendment. Here is the decision (PDF). "In an unprecedented victory for cell phone privacy, a federal court has affirmed that cell phone location information stored by a mobile phone provider is protected by the Fourth Amendment and that the government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before seizing such records. EFF has successfully argued before other courts that the government needs a warrant before it can track a cell phones location in real-time. However, this is the first known case where a court has found that the government must also obtain a warrant when obtaining stored records about a cell phones location from the mobile phone provider."

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Note to Self (5, Funny)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | about 6 years ago | (#24979101)

Before committing a major crime, give cell phone to a small child as a gift.

Re:Note to Self (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 6 years ago | (#24979221)

Not going to work -- the DOJ(Department of Jerkoffs) will extract your DNA from your ear-grease you left all over the faceplate.

Re:Note to Self (3, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 years ago | (#24979533)

the DOJ(Department of Jerkoffs) will extract your DNA from your ear-grease you left all over the faceplate.

Gloves, plastic bags, tape, hands free system (which you dispose of seperately). No such thing as too careful. Of course a real serial killer can still live without a telephone for a few hours. It's part of the sacrifices of the job.

Re:Note to Self (3, Funny)

j_166 (1178463) | about 6 years ago | (#24981131)

"Of course a real serial killer can still live without a telephone for a few hours. It's part of the sacrifices of the job."

What am I supposed to do between torture sessions with my victims then, chit-chat with them? Normally I use that time to catch up on my RSS feeds.

Re:Note to Self (4, Funny)

FireStormZ (1315639) | about 6 years ago | (#24979313)

Naa tie it to a dogs collar and set him loose in a neighborhood...

Re:Note to Self (1)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | about 6 years ago | (#24979351)

It would be way more fun to hear about the FBI storming an elementary school.

Re:Note to Self (2, Insightful)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | about 6 years ago | (#24981111)

It would be way more fun to hear about the FBI storming an elementary school.

They would probably taser a bunch of five year-olds for not being cooperative. "I told them to get down, but all they would do is cry and say 'I want my mommy!' The book says we should taser non-cooperative suspects, so that's what we did." And then some scum-bag lawyer would argue that the police acted within their authority and that the law does not distinguish between a 200 lb drugged-up brute attacking a police officer and a five year-old crying for his mommy.

Resisting a Rest (2, Funny)

infonography (566403) | about 6 years ago | (#24984341)

Police were called to a preschool today when a 5 year old didn't want a nap.

He was charged with resisting a rest. (oblig)

Re:Note to Self (2, Informative)

cHiphead (17854) | about 6 years ago | (#24984533)

Thats perposterous. They wouldn't taser a five year old. However, at age six, apparently anything goes. [theregister.co.uk]

Re:Note to Self What??? (1)

davidsyes (765062) | about 6 years ago | (#24980437)

They'll have already remote-activated the microphone, and --if the target is a Person of Interest-- they'd have had also had ground assets in the area looking for a divergence between the target and the target's monitored electronics.

I would not be surprised if nowadays they erect aerosol dispensers (colorless, odorless, visible by satellite or local aerial units...) around the doors of targets to "tag" them when they depart or when guests enter.

If there are multiple ports on the dispenser, targets can be "coded" so they can be followed in the visible and a few other spectra to prevent them from switching clothes and having "body doubles" throw off the surveillance team. And, if the trackers detect multiple spectra signals/shading from a single target it could imply sex between them.

Hell, this kind of thing might have dual uses. Do this to the favorite hotels of politicians, Page hangouts... find out who's having sex with whom... Talk about "smear jobs" coming to the fore...

Re:Note to Self (1)

Crazyswedishguy (1020008) | about 6 years ago | (#24980729)

... except when said crime is pedophilia.

Well, not really (5, Interesting)

PainMeds (1301879) | about 6 years ago | (#24979129)

TFA suggests that they only need a warrant to obtain this information from the mobile carrier, but in some cases this information is available from the devices themselves. The iPhone is a good example of this - software can easily be installed on the device (kind of like a LoJack) to report back GPS location, and the iPhone itself apparently keeps logs of GPS positioning, based on this book [amazon.com] 's claims. I would argue that this form of surveillance would be just as loosely managed as police placing GPS transponders on vehicles [tennessean.com] .

Re:Well, not really (1, Interesting)

liquidpele (663430) | about 6 years ago | (#24979315)

I wonder if the warrant has to be to get the data from YOU or from the cell COMPANY? Did they specify who owns that info? Because if it's the company, the could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant.

Re:Well, not really (1)

Tracking Devices (1360235) | about 6 years ago | (#24979837)

The information is obtained from the cell company.

Re:Well, not really (1)

liquidpele (663430) | about 6 years ago | (#24984093)

Well duh, but my question is who *owns* the information. It's like I "own" my medical records, the Hospital can't just give those to whoever they want. But Kroger could give away freely my history of buying groceries if there are not any privay laws stating otherwise. My question is can the Cell companies willingly give the info, or is a warrant required for *any* type of disclosure to anyone accept the person with the account. My guess is the former...

Re:Well, not really (1, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 6 years ago | (#24980511)

I wonder if the warrant has to be to get the data from YOU or from the cell COMPANY? Did they specify who owns that info? Because if it's the company, the could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant.

The court said the police can't ask for the information without a warrant.
You're suggesting the phone company "could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant."

Those two statements are mutually incompatible.
If the police cannot ask without a warrant, how do you propose the phone company will voluntarily give up your location?
-1 Overrated for you.

Re:Well, not really (4, Insightful)

delong (125205) | about 6 years ago | (#24980571)

-5 overrated for you. The police don't need a warrant to ask for anything. Consent is always sufficient, no warrant required. A warrant is only required to compel disclosure.

Re:Well, not really (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24980981)

-5 overrated for you. The police don't need a warrant to ask for anything. Consent is always sufficient, no warrant required. A warrant is only required to compel disclosure.

fuck you're stupid

When you're talking about a business, State and Federal privacy laws come into effect.

Re:Well, not really (3, Insightful)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | about 6 years ago | (#24981909)

They should come into effect. It's rare that the companies actually pay attention to them. (See also: FISA.)

Re:Well, not really (1)

delong (125205) | about 6 years ago | (#24983153)

Gee, the anonymous coward whose best comeback is "fuck your stupid" thinks he knows the law better than a lawyer.

Clue to you, dipwad. "State and federal privacy laws" have nothing to do with the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

Re:Well, not really (2, Informative)

BountyX (1227176) | about 6 years ago | (#24979625)

This is actually good. It gives us more legal protection than we had before. The NSA and FBI have been sniffing GPS since early 2000 and they already have access to the roving bug and triangulation for older phones. At least the courts are saying...woah there...you need a warrant. Nothing new, we just have formal 4th ammendment protection now.

Re:Well, not really (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | about 6 years ago | (#24984321)

in some cases this information is available from the devices themselves.

And why would they be allowed to search that without a warrant? They can't very well snoop through your files just because they want to.

My iphone 3g got stolen! (3, Interesting)

ilovesymbian (1341639) | about 6 years ago | (#24979137)

What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished?

Its analogous to the red light traffic cameras that take photos of those who jump the red light, irrespective of who's driving the car, the owner is fined!

In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | about 6 years ago | (#24979299)

it is just a dollar civil fine w/ no possible penalties (it doesn't go on your record)

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979345)

who gives a flying fuck. it's still bullshit whether it goes on your record or not.

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | about 6 years ago | (#24979691)

Actually, I rather like it (when it's not abused for city financial gain). If you report your car stolen, you won't be held responsible. And if someone else did it in your car, and it was not stolen, ultimately you /are/ responsible -- if you don't like it, use more caution in who you allow to use your car.

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

stonedcat (80201) | about 6 years ago | (#24979823)

Don't worry, the rest of us have the sense that you obviously lack.

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | about 6 years ago | (#24979977)

I lack sense for knowing who I loan out my car too, and being willing to take responsibility for that? What an /intriguing/ perspective you have.

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

stonedcat (80201) | about 6 years ago | (#24980311)

Why in the hell would you think that you're responsible for anyone else's actions...? Even with your car.

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | about 6 years ago | (#24984467)

Don't get me wrong - if they run the red light, you better believe I'm going to make them pay the fine. But if I wanted to make sure I couldn't get the fine in the first place, I wouldn't have loand my car out. Seems like common sense, yes?

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (1)

Smauler (915644) | about 6 years ago | (#24982203)

Ok... Say all your family have access to your car, which they all use every so often. A speeding ticket comes through the post a couple of weeks after the offence, and no one can remember who was driving. It's now your problem, and that is shit... you should not have to log who is driving what when _all_ the time.

OT - Regarding your sig, atheism is lack of faith, not faith in lack. Many atheists also do believe in a lack of god too, but atheism at its simplest is just no belief in a higher entity, not a belief in no higher entity. There's an important difference.

Re:In most jurisdictions that I know about (0, Offtopic)

rickb928 (945187) | about 6 years ago | (#24980083)

In Arizona, it doesn't take but two red light tickets to get your license suspended. You can avoid this by taking traffic school which is a minimum of 8 hours. If you're not careful, you can find your license suspended, pay >$300, and still have points that leave you subject to a non-appealable suspension on another infraction. Not a 'no possible penalties' situation to me...

As an aside, AZ just enacted traffic laws making it illegal to traverse the 'gore area', that triangle where an exit ramp separates from the highway, for instance, and marked by solid lines. The fine is about $840. Yes, $840. Apparently we are bad people and are killing each other by passing and merging abruptly in these areas. The red light laws were stiffened because our previous Governor found in a study that we were dying due to running red lights at a rate higher than all the rest of the country, by a wide margin. So we're being fined into submission. Sounds like a good idea, eh?

And video tickets count toward that? (0, Offtopic)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | about 6 years ago | (#24980315)

We have a similar thing for being ticketed x times for y violation here, but video tickets, at least here and CO don't go on your abstract. If a cop writes you a Red Light ticket though, you are basically SOL.

I have to say, I am all for it. I make it a priority to stop on yellow. I drive a pretty quick care, and I hate when people make me sit at a green light because they are trying to scoot through a recent red.

Now I just make it a game, and see how close I can come to hitting a red light runner so I can get a new paint job.

Though that would have backfired when a MOTORCYCLIST followed a city bus that ran a red light. Yup, the bus ran the light first, then the motorcycle drafted to it's behind. I was on a bicycle and almost hit the guy.

Preview... dohh (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | about 6 years ago | (#24980355)

I drive a pretty quick CAR not care 8')

Also, I am not seriously trying to hit someone, it's my responsibility to go on green "if it is clear."

Re:Preview... dohh (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about 6 years ago | (#24980475)

In AZ, video tickets are tickets. Photo summons they are called, and they count. Even for red lights.

You got it easy.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (5, Interesting)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 6 years ago | (#24979377)

The wonderful thing about a murder investigation is that they actually do an investigation. So as yoda would say "Being there, guilty makes you not."

This is the mistake I see being made by 90% of overly cautious privacy advocates. If you're concerned about the government knowing where you are and hauling your ass off to some secret prison to torture you without a trial... then the the country is in far more dire straights than can be fixed with a couple of privacy laws.

If the government is going to frame you... why go through the hastle of actually using real footage.
If the government's case against you is "his phone was at the scene of the crime when it was committed" and they win then you've got far bigger problems in your legal system then needing a warrant.

I completely agree with the legal decision that digital information should be only accessible through a warrant. Just like I think that surveilance footage should only be accessible through a warrant. If 'the law' can riffle through my stuff in my apartment with a warrant then I see no problem with them rifling through my digital stuff with a warrant.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (2, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 6 years ago | (#24979877)

This is the mistake I see being made by 90% of overly cautious privacy advocates. If you're concerned about the government knowing where you are and hauling your ass off to some secret prison to torture you without a trial... then the the country is in far more dire straights than can be fixed with a couple of privacy laws.

You are assuming a 'vast conspiracy' problem. Before that stage comes the one of a bunch of little conspiracies. Like individuals in positions of authority abusing that authority for personal reasons - like harassing ex-girlfriends and their new boyfriends, or individual police officers abusing the system to manipulate courts to convict people they 'just know' are guilty, or incumbent politicians using surveillance information to gain an unfair advantage over political challengers (sort of like the way Hoover used the FBI).

Right now, those are the kinds of privacy problems we have to contend with. If we allow them to go unchecked eventually we will end up in the situation of 'vast conspiracy' where these abuses are no longer the exception, they are the rule.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (1)

j_166 (1178463) | about 6 years ago | (#24981243)

or even just cops who are fuckups, and use the system to cover up their incompetence so they don't get fired.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (1)

Artifakt (700173) | about 6 years ago | (#24981925)

Plus there's the non-privacy related 'problems we have to contend with'. Like the Denver area government officials who apparently took huge bribes from some of the big oil companies. Some of the bribes allegedly included drugs provided by hookers, but the DEA isn't involved in the investigation, (at least yet). Anyone willing to bet that the officials who were getting away with this for years would have drawn the line at any other abuse because it was privacy related? Anyone willing to bet that, if they get a slap on the wrist, there won't be other government employees emboldened to create more privacy problems?

No, you don't get it (3, Insightful)

xant (99438) | about 6 years ago | (#24980339)

If the government is going to frame you... why go through the hastle of actually using real footage.

Because they don't know if they want to frame you yet. We're all anonymous and faceless.. until some tracking trend decides that we'd be a nice scapegoat. You have to show up on somebody's radar for that to happen. Your unusual, slashdot-reading, open-source programming, bookstore-visiting habits might be enough. Don't give them any hooks to go after you. If they can't track it, they won't be interested what it says about you--or what they can make it appear to say about you.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (3, Insightful)

morgauo (1303341) | about 6 years ago | (#24980727)

"If you're concerned about the government knowing where you are and hauling your ass off to some secret prison to torture you without a trial... then the the country is in far more dire straights than can be fixed with a couple of privacy laws."

The point is to head things off with the privacy and other civil liberties laws long before it reaches the point of people disapearing into secret prisons, etc...

I think history shows us pretty clearly that tyranny is the natural end that governments evolve towards if they are not constantly kept in check by their citizens.

Then again.... our government already has it's secret prisons, doesn't it....

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (0)

irishlyrucked (1239562) | about 6 years ago | (#24981833)

The only problem is that, like the RIAA, this can be used to fish for evidence. If it's too easy to access such information, then police won't bother to corroborate any evidence. However, if they have to get a warrant, it means they have to show a jusge that they have a VERY good reason to suspect that you committed the crime, other than just, "well he was in the area."

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (2, Insightful)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | about 6 years ago | (#24982079)

It's not a question of being framed. It's a question of overzealous police and prosecutors deciding that you are guilty, then coming up with the evidence to prove it. This is a well known and common problem. It's just human nature. Police nearly always decide on who is guilty long before sufficient evidence of guilt is available. That's why our system protects suspects so greatly, because that's the only way to prevent them from being hanged by "good" people who believe that they are entirely in the right.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (1)

boomer_rehfield (579777) | about 6 years ago | (#24979711)

>What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished? You're worried about the police cell phone tracking you in the event someone steals your cell phone? :) >Its analogous to the red light traffic cameras that take photos of those who jump the red light, irrespective of who's driving the car, the owner is fined! And if your car has been stolen you can explain that in court and get it reversed. If someone else was driving your car, you can take them to small claims (if need be) and recover the costs. If it's your car, it's your responsibility.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (1)

boomer_rehfield (579777) | about 6 years ago | (#24979731)

Jeez...it's been a while since I've posted... please forgive the poor formatting...

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 6 years ago | (#24980085)

What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished?

Well, if you're sitting in an interrogation room, and AT&T says your phone is in Disneyland, probably not.

Re:My iphone 3g got stolen! (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 6 years ago | (#24980445)

What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished?

Its analogous to the red light traffic cameras that take photos of those who jump the red light, irrespective of who's driving the car, the owner is fined!

I had a friend who got fined for driving a car that wasn't his because his face was in a set of those photos. The owner of the car got the notice, but he wrote to explain who had been driving and sent along photos of both of them (they didn't like each other much anymore) and the fine was sent to the driver.

How is this "unprecedented" ? (5, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 6 years ago | (#24979151)

It scares me that this is considered an "unprecedented" victory. This looks like a clear-cut example of what the 4th amendment is meant to do. If the government wants access to private data they must have a warrant. Why is that so difficult to understand? It's one of the cornerstones of justice.

Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, unless it is specially protected in some way. That is backwards.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (2, Interesting)

jrockway (229604) | about 6 years ago | (#24979203)

Well, the data is not clearly yours. They could get it from the cell phone companies, who may be happy to violate your rights without a warrant.

If I was carrying around a pocket GPS device, of course the police would need a warrant to dump the history and have it be admissible in court. I hope...

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (2, Insightful)

qwertphobia (825473) | about 6 years ago | (#24979381)

Yes, the data is mine, it's completely about me so it is mine. It cannot be considered directory information or public records.

Let's see if we fight the same fight for GPS data from our cars or our running shoes.

In a similar way, my medical & health information is also mine, since it is about me, independant of how that information was created, observed, or gathered. Yes, I understand there are special protections in place specifically for medical information - I really intend to address how I feel about it, not the legal perception.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

idontgno (624372) | about 6 years ago | (#24979909)

Yes, the data is mine, it's completely about me so it is mine. It cannot be considered directory information or public records.

<discussion type="Devil's advocate">And if I wrote an unauthorized biography of you, based on private investigators tailing you and observing your publicly-accessible data and publicly-viewable facts (such as the location of the newsstand where you bought that *ahem* picture magazine), is that data yours? I'm not sure that case law agrees.</discussion>

I agree with the district court's judgement. But there are arguments and precedent which could have swung the decision the other way.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

qwertphobia (825473) | about 6 years ago | (#24982635)

The difference is that I would consider the data generated about me by my phone to be my data. I believe that's what they were trying to say.

If an investigator witnessed me in certain situations I would consider that piece of data to belong to that investigator.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

idontgno (624372) | about 6 years ago | (#24984181)

Well, it's your phone, but it's also the telco's cell tower and switch system. Do you own them? Do you own the data about that network transaction, by virtue of ownership of (at most) 1/3 of the participating nodes (phone, at least 1 tower, at least 1 switch)? You don't even have a majority stake in that data!

Stuff on your phone not involving the phone network, you clearly own. That's why normal personal search-and-seizure laws apply to the phone book and call log in the phone itself. However, most of the meaningful stuff you do with a phone involves assets belonging to someone else, and therefore ownership of data isn't quite so clear-cut.

The court got it right. But it wasn't a slam-dunk like you think it should have been.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

hey! (33014) | about 6 years ago | (#24979971)

No the GP has it right, legally speaking.

You can dispose of any information you have gained by proper means any way you like, with a few exceptions like when you have a fiduciary duty. It's not fundamentally different from anything else you have a right to do. You're free to spread the information, but in some cases there might be consequences.

If information about other people you got by legitimate means were their property, you wouldn't be able to do anything with it without their opt-in. It's not hard to think of examples of where this personal information as property thing doesn't work. This is pretty much the argument Scientology uses against people who spread information about their secret doctrines.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

qwertphobia (825473) | about 6 years ago | (#24983059)

You can dispose of any information you have gained by proper means any way you like, with a few exceptions like when you have a fiduciary duty. It's not fundamentally different from anything else you have a right to do. You're free to spread the information, but in some cases there might be consequences.

I wouldn't be so sure about that. Lots of folks (myself included) work with information that could be considered personal, sensitive, and confidential. We have an obligation to ensure this information is not distributed, modified, or disposed of improperly. Some restrictions are legal, some are policy, others are maybe just common sense. Unless you consider the whole employment thing to be fiduciary.

There's also defamation, libel and slander. Anyone who distributes information, knowing it is false, can get in trouble.

And don't start shouting "Fire" in a movie theatre, and don't incite riots either.

Yeah, it's a bit off-topic, but it is absolutely not true that you can distribute information any way you like.

If information about other people you got by legitimate means were their property, you wouldn't be able to do anything with it without their opt-in. It's not hard to think of examples of where this personal information as property thing doesn't work. This is pretty much the argument Scientology uses against people who spread information about their secret doctrines.

I think that's what I'm trying to say too. I'm just saying that I think my GPS data is my data and not my phone company's data.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | about 6 years ago | (#24979677)

precedent is a legal term. Just because a senario is obviously protected by the 4th amendment does not mean the senario has been explicitly tested in court. This article is just saying "now this one has". The only argument against this ruling is the one jrockway presents just above.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

Sun.Jedi (1280674) | about 6 years ago | (#24979853)

Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, unless it is specially protected in some way. That is backwards

Correction.

The Patriot Act is not spelled b-a-c-k-w-a-r-d-s.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (2, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | about 6 years ago | (#24980389)

Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, unless it is specially protected in some way. That is backwards.

Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, even when it is specially protected by The Constitution. That is backwards.

There. Fixed that for ya.

As to unprecedented, I think it means, "Unprecedented since 9/11, when we all decided that being terrified is a reasonable response to terrorism." Or, alternately, "Unprecedented since 9/11, when the executive realized that augmenting, or at least capitalizing upon, public terror would enable them to get the law enforcement tools they believe are important, even at the expense of our national principles."

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

bugnuts (94678) | about 6 years ago | (#24980567)

This looks like a clear-cut example of what the 4th amendment is meant to do.

The fact this article was on 9/11 is revealing.

Generally, the phone companies give all information to the police, at their request, except for actual tapping of conversations.

What makes this landmark is that the records are included, not just real-time spying on citizens.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (2, Informative)

hey! (33014) | about 6 years ago | (#24980615)

Actually, you are mistaken on this.

We went through this years ago with a device called a pen register. You clipped it onto the old analog phone lines, which used voltage changes driven by a spring loaded rotary dial to transmit phone numbers to mechanical switches. Because you disclosed the phone number to the carrier (obviously, you'd have to), it wasn't yours personally; it wasn't your papers, your effects and was not in your home. Therefore it didn't fall under the fourth amendment.

There's an important constitutional theory (decried by some conservatives) that says the Bill of Rights isn't just about what it says, that we have to reinterpret it as circumstances. Certain right fall into the so-called "penumbra" of the Bill; they aren't right in the shadow, but they're close to the edge. This view stems from the Ninth, which says we aren't allowed to treat the Bill of Rights as a bill -- an exhaustive list.

The problem with the penumbra is nobody can say where it stops.

That's where it's Congress's role to step in with laws that regulate the activity of the government near the penumbra. And they did. They created the "Pen Register Act" which says you need to meet the same standards as a search of somebody's home if you want to use a pen register.

Wherever this ruling found its justification, it was probably not in Constitutional law because that would overturn long established precedent. If that was so, I'd expect it to get overturned, unless we can get a SCOTUS ruling that overturns existing precedent in favor of limiting executive power in a way no prior court has done. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.

If it gets its justification in statutory law, then it may or may not be overturned. For example, nobody uses a pen register any longer. If you want to use the Pen Register Act you've got to have some thing that is close enough in function to a pen register to fall under the law, which I don't think GPS records are. It might be justified under some other kind of law regulating the use of telecomm records.

The important take home lesson is: if you don't like this, don't count on the Constitution to protect you. It won't. Elect congress critters who see this your way.

Re:How is this "unprecedented" ? (1)

sgtrock (191182) | about 6 years ago | (#24983463)

There's an important constitutional theory (decried by some conservatives) that says the Bill of Rights isn't just about what it says, that we have to reinterpret it as circumstances. Certain right fall into the so-called "penumbra" of the Bill; they aren't right in the shadow, but they're close to the edge. This view stems from the Ninth, which says we aren't allowed to treat the Bill of Rights as a bill -- an exhaustive list.

The problem with that theory is that it isn't even wrong because it takes the Ninth out of context. This is especially obvious when considering the Ninth and Tenth together. Quoting from Cornell's Law College site [cornell.edu] :

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

(emphasis added, obviously)

The Tenth is definitely my personal favorite. :) Too bad nobody else ever remembers it. :(

Note: I'm not saying that's your personal position. Only commenting on the ability of some people to read just what they want to.

It's not so clear-cut (1)

jjo (62046) | about 6 years ago | (#24983553)

You may think this is a simple constitutional question, but it isn't.

In Smith v. Maryland (1979), the Supreme Court ruled that lists of telephone numbers from outgoing calls (so called "pen registers [wikipedia.org] ") are not constitutionally protected because the telephone subscriber voluntarily discloses that information to the telephone company. Given that precedent, it's a tenable argument (although one rejected by the court in this case) to suggest that GPS logs are also unprotected for the same reason.

Great (4, Insightful)

OldFish (1229566) | about 6 years ago | (#24979155)

but it's a regional decision only at this point and barely scratches the surface of the civil rights and privacy issues that plague American Citizens today. Smile but don't get happy yet.

... in Western Pennsylvania (2, Insightful)

billstewart (78916) | about 6 years ago | (#24979495)

[insert "Old people in Pittsburgh [wikipedia.org] " meme...]

It's only a Federal district court [wikipedia.org] so far, so the Feds can still appeal it if they want. But it's an excellent start.

the DOJ? warrants? (5, Insightful)

iamwhoiamtoday (1177507) | about 6 years ago | (#24979189)

since when did the DOJ actually use warrants to get what it wanted?

Won't stop them (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979219)

It's not like law or constitution ever stopped gov't from doing whatever they want.

Sarah Palin: War-Monger +1, Informative (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979235)

Go ahead and attack Russia [youtube.com] .

Re:Sarah Palin: War-Monger +1, Informative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979481)

All I see is a huge radar target...?

Re:Sarah Palin: War-Monger +1, Informative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979717)

In Soviet Russia, Russia attacks you....oh wait!!

Location data story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979245)

Hah we lost someone in Boston when we were out at the bar a few months ago and we called up the phone company who told us without verification what street she was on.

Re:Location data story (1)

EverythingDies (1198239) | about 6 years ago | (#24979309)

lollerskates

clarification (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979287)

I wonder if the warrant has to be to get the data from YOU or from the cell COMPANY? Did they specify who owns that info? Because if it's the company, the could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant.

Re:clarification (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 years ago | (#24979409)

Because if it's the company, the could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant.

      AND apply for "retroactive immunity" - don't forget THAT part.

sad (4, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | about 6 years ago | (#24979293)

Now is a dark, dark hour in US history when a court upholds the Constitution and the words "unprecedented victory" are used in the coverage of the event.

Re:sad (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | about 6 years ago | (#24979929)

Ummm...the words "unprecedented victory" can only be accurate in description of this very specific issue. And besides this, why would the arguably sensationalist description used in reporting an event reflect the "darkness" of the times?!

Oh, wait, I had just forgotten to put on my doom-and-gloom hat...
*adjusts tinfoil*
ZOMG, you're sooo right!! We're soooo going to hell in a handbasket!! It's all because of {insert name of hated group/person}!!

Re:sad (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 6 years ago | (#24980805)

Now is a dark, dark hour in US history when a court upholds the Constitution and the words "unprecedented victory" are used in the coverage of the event.

Well since this case had no legal precedent for the Judges to rely on, it stands to reason that the decision was unprecedented in the most literal sense of the word.

Lawyers use unprecedented as a technical term.
Get off your drama pony.

Re:sad (1)

KGIII (973947) | about 6 years ago | (#24983925)

Now is a dark, dark hour in US history

You are about to be eaten by a grue.

is this going to stop the feds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979339)

Good news! The bad news is that feds ignore the constitution on a daily basis, so good luck enforcing this ruling. Best not to have a cell phone or anything with RFID chip.

What about ring tones? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24979363)

You can tell a lot about a person from ring tones.

And they have profilers...

that's all dandy and whatnot..... (0, Flamebait)

krystar (608153) | about 6 years ago | (#24979401)

until they decide to invoke the almighty power of the scroll of patriot act.

+9000 armor piercing
+9000 block from attacks
+9000 armor

.....when the laws of the land can be bypassed entirely, it makes the laws of the land utterly useless.

Thanks, EFF (2, Insightful)

ohxten (1248800) | about 6 years ago | (#24979419)

Thank you EFF. About time.

Re:Thanks, EFF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24981139)

Why does the EFF hate freedom?!

Well thats odd.... (1)

acedotcom (998378) | about 6 years ago | (#24979497)

i dont need a warrant to track my ex-girlfriends cells gps...


but she needs a warrant to keep me away from her.

They keep records?!?!?!! (1)

Iowan41 (1139959) | about 6 years ago | (#24979551)

Whatever for? That sounds like Police State tactics. Datamine to find your acquaintances so that they can be arrested, too.

Re:They keep records?!?!?!! (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | about 6 years ago | (#24979851)

Services providers can keep whatever records they like (with a few odd exceptions). It's up to their privacy agreement whether or not they actually do anything with it, commercially speaking. AFAIK there is nothing requiring a service provider to save this type of information, so it is possible the LEA can obtain a warrant only to get the response, "Are you crazy? We don't have the storage space to maintain that kind of trivial information!". LEAs gets this response all the time for warrants on ISPs; check CALEA for more information on what capabilities mobile operators must provide in the US.

Re:They keep records?!?!?!! (2, Insightful)

mdfst13 (664665) | about 6 years ago | (#24980625)

According to the article, they keep records of the cell phone towers used to interact with your phone. I know the summary says GPS, but that's not what the EFF attorney said in the article.

There are any number of perfectly good reasons for cell phone companies to track cell phone tower usage. That's their equipment. There are even reasons (e.g. potential billing disputes) why they might not want to anonymize that data.

heh (1)

FudRucker (866063) | about 6 years ago | (#24979643)

a warrent for the government Goon Squad be no more difficult than getting a note from your mother when you were a child going to school...

Can I have my own records? (1)

kiehlster (844523) | about 6 years ago | (#24979727)

If the phone company is keeping record, why shouldn't I have access to all such personal data that they have on me? It may be rather fun to study my travel activity without having to also carry around an additional GPS-enabled device or having to buy a new phone with accessible GPS data. For those days when I'm off the ball and forgot what it was I did yesterday.

Government uses GPS devices instead (1)

GPS Tracking (1347425) | about 6 years ago | (#24979747)

In most states, law enforcement can still use a GPS tracking device without needing a warrant.

Bypass gps tracking (1)

BountyX (1227176) | about 6 years ago | (#24979809)

We need a gps proxy architecture. Would be difficult to setup. Im afraid this might require specialized hardware :( any ideas?

one (more) small step toward corporate sovereignty (1)

creatorbri (1362787) | about 6 years ago | (#24979811)

So the feds can't just pull folks' GPS history willy-nilly, but the Cell providers can track folks history all they like, and do whatever they want with it. Thank goodness our rights are protected..

It's regrettable that this was even litigated. (3, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | about 6 years ago | (#24980045)

The language of the fourth amendment isn't ambiguous at all. Anyone who's passed the bar should know damned well that obtaining records from a private party requires a warrant.

-jcr

What about wireless tracking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24980509)

This is a good step. But, what about the laws surrounding wireless tracking (i.e., setting up listening stations, scarfing up signals -- cell, wifi, etc -- and tagging them with location information).

My best understanding of the law is that once something is on the airwaves, it's fair game (something wardrivers take advantage of). Since most people have switched to wireless forms of communication, all the traditional protections for wired/fixed storage services do not apply. Thus, "wireless"tapping and wireless location tracking are perfectly legal, as long as the proper equipment is used to attain the data.

Thoughts?

Yeah, that'll keep Bush from spying on you (1)

sizzzzlerz (714878) | about 6 years ago | (#24980575)

The Constitution hasn't been much of an impediment to date. What's one more court ruling?

mod 04 (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24980623)

it is sad that this is good news (1)

drolli (522659) | about 6 years ago | (#24981739)

nothing more to say about that

telco immunity act (1)

Chewbacon (797801) | about 6 years ago | (#24982777)

Doesn't that work out in the DOJ's favor?

But there is a workaround for the fourth amendment (1)

lawn.ninja (1125909) | about 6 years ago | (#24983199)

So what does this ruling really do for you? Nothing except make you "feel" like you have privacy. If they want to look at your GPS logs they have legal precendence to do so without a warrant, and they now also have a law in writing that keeps it from being criminal.

Is Verizon impacted at all by this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24983599)

a mobile phone provider is protected by the Fourth Amendment and that the government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before seizing such records.

Sure, assuming that the mobile phone provider WANTS protection.

It seems to me that Verizon is happy to give and/or sell the data it has collected regardless of a warrant.

Only use older (basic) phones.. (1)

Paracelcus (151056) | about 6 years ago | (#24984527)

That do not have this capability (GPS), several smaller companies still offer these phones.

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