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Police Don't Need a Warrant To Track Your Disposable Cellphone

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the time-to-pitch-that-burner dept.

Privacy 312

New submitter Blindman writes "The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is okay for police to track your cellphone signal without a warrant. Using information about the cell tower that a prepaid cell phone was connected to, the police were able to track a suspected drug smuggler. Apparently, keeping your cellphone on is authorization for the police to know where you are. According to the ruling (PDF), '[The defendant] did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data emanating from his cell phone that showed its location.' Also, 'if a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal.'"

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So it begins (1, Redundant)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41002157)

The first step in mass surveillance.

Re:So it begins (5, Insightful)

game kid (805301) | about 2 years ago | (#41002203)

The first?

So it ends (4, Interesting)

gatfirls (1315141) | about 2 years ago | (#41002251)

...our reasonable expectation of privacy and the experiment of civil liberties. The sad thing is that we have lost a lot of them to "aid in fighting" un-winnable and/or lost wars.

Re:So it ends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002349)

Because you can't turn off your cell phone?

Re:So it ends (3, Insightful)

PortHaven (242123) | about 2 years ago | (#41002445)

No, because I shouldn't have to turn off my right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and/or property.

Re:So it ends (-1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41002521)

None of which is at risk here. This case is purely about privacy.

Re:So it ends (2)

PortHaven (242123) | about 2 years ago | (#41002769)

Really, and you seem to think privacy is not associated with life, liberty, happiness?

How about I release your credit card numbers? your SSN?
Make public personal information?

You think that does not affect your life, your freedom, nor your happiness?

I think your crazy if you think not.

Re:So it ends (3, Insightful)

gatfirls (1315141) | about 2 years ago | (#41002809)

No, it's about 4th amendment rights. They just (like always) liken the data they get some simple "technology" like a drug dog or a "locating beeper" to justify their ruling. It is not like or the same as those things, it is them jumping on to a private network and searching your data to locate/track you. If you want to liken things, the ruling is saying it's can tap/intercept your phone calls because you were talking outside and they could have heard you if they were standing next to you. Read the ruling, it's pretty flimsy.

Re:So it ends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002379)

The sad thing is that we have lost a lot of them to "aid in fighting" un-winnable and/or lost wars.

Of course we won the Iraq war. We got rid of their WMD, didn't we? 'Mission Accomplished.'

Re:So it ends (4, Insightful)

jxander (2605655) | about 2 years ago | (#41002493)

Worst part is, I can already see how the government might address the issue ... Cell phone (and other hardware) manufacturers will be required to include a sticker on the packaging, or maybe just a footnote in the instruction manual that states : "This device complies with FCC regulation 42.x and emits location tracking data that can be collected and used by law enforcement. Ownership of this device implies acceptance of government tracking and anal probing in compliance with .... " etc etc etc

In fact, it might already be there. I sure as hell haven't read all my fine print.

Re:So it ends (1)

danomac (1032160) | about 2 years ago | (#41002615)

So leave your phone at home.

Re:So it ends (2, Insightful)

rgbrenner (317308) | about 2 years ago | (#41002777)

If I walk down a street, anyone within a block or two can see me, and we all agree there was no right to privacy... after all I went out in public.

But you put a transmitter in your pocket that broadcasts your location to everyone within 45 miles.. and suddenly you're shocked other people know where you are?

You've got to be kidding me.

It's your phone. It's your transmitter.

STOP transmitting your location to the whole city if you don't want people to know where you are.

Re:So it begins (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002289)

Nope. The first step was our training to post every little aspect of our lives on a PUBLIC form of communication. Our second step was equipping us with COMPUTERS THAT CAN TRACK OUR FUCKING MOVEMENTS and then telling us to never worry about shutting them off.

Telecommunications (should be) a public trust. Just like I don't talk about intimate details of my sex life in public, I don't do it via electronic communication. Just like I don't go somewhere I know my wife will be if I'm trying to cheat, I also shut my fucking phone off and leave it at home if I'm doing something illegal.

Your entitlement is astounding. Are you ENTITLED to privacy when using a PUBLIC form of communication? NO. Do I want it, and do you want it? Absolutely. But that's not realistic.

Just like at work - play the game with the tools they give you. They want to track your cell phone? Get rid of it.

Re:So it begins (0)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 2 years ago | (#41002773)

How the fuck is a cell phone a 'public' form of communication? You're argument could apply to CB radio, but not cell phones..

Re:So it begins (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002539)

Have they ever needed a warrant to get your address from your landline number? I don't think so... Only for a wiretap, right? What's the difference here?

Re:So it begins (4, Insightful)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 2 years ago | (#41002607)

stallman is crazy, in some ways; but he was RIGHT that we are carrying 'involuntary tracking devices'. and we even PAY for them, out of our own pockets!

its not really 'tinfoil', anymore, to want to remove your battery when the phone is not in use. (not sure what apple fans to, but normal phones can at least have their battery taken out easily and on-demand).

What is the point (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002171)

"did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data emanating from his cell phone that showed its location."

Sounds pretty damn reasonable to me, I mean you are literally broadcasting who, where and what you are saying, all one need do is listen.

Talk about a non-story. It's not a real scandal like Obama eating dog or anything.

Re:What is the point (5, Insightful)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 2 years ago | (#41002299)

"did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data emanating from his cell phone that showed its location."

Sounds pretty damn reasonable to me, I mean you are literally broadcasting who, where and what you are saying, all one need do is listen.

Talk about a non-story. It's not a real scandal like Obama eating dog or anything.

So, where are the publicly available devices capable of tracking this signal. I'm waiting for it, because I have a few senators, congressmen, and judges I think should be tracked 24/7. After all, they don't have any reasonable expectation of privacy, do they? And therefore they should be able to be tracked using the cell phone, right? Note: this isn't entirely a joke, I honestly think people should find a way to track lawmakers and judges if this decision doesn't get overturned. Obviously, the decision should be overturned, but if not, that would be a good way to insure a law protecting such information is enacted.

Of course people have a reasonable expectation of privacy for that data. It isn't publicly available, and in fact the police had to request it from the cell phone company. Just because you can track someone using it quite easily does not mean they do not have an expectation of privacy.

Re:What is the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002439)

Re:What is the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002481)

So that'll hack the phone company and let you get the location of a person over the past X months?

Cause I'm guessing not.

Re:What is the point (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 years ago | (#41002487)

I thought it would be fun to run for Congress on a libertarian platform. I would make it a reality show in that I would have a camera following me broadcasting everything I do live on the internet. A cross between The Truman Show and Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Then I realized that Federal Employees are not allowed to run for partisan political office because of the Hatch Act.

Re:What is the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002565)

Why in the world do you expect that lawmakers will be beholden to the laws they make? I know that seems fair and balanced to you, but that is not how, now has it ever been how, the world works.

This law will be used for widespread monitoring of the commoners, and it will not be used to monitor the aristocracy, and if you attempt to use it to monitor the aristocracy you will be punished. Count on it.

Re:What is the point roxy (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002581)

Police cars are usually broadcasting radio signals as well. Is it OK if I create an app that shows the real-time position of any police vehicles that are identified? Should be. Fairly easy to overlay on a google map. It is no different than seeing one drive down the street and then telling someone. We could make a web version that serves from another country to protect it from a take down. I'm gonna put this up over on kickstarter.

Re:What is the point (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002667)

That's the whole thing, if it's public then why is it illegal for us mortals to receive and decode cell phone signals? Why are there certain satellite signals that are illegal for me to receive? I mean it's just data being blasted out right at me.

Re:What is the point (1)

IAmR007 (2539972) | about 2 years ago | (#41002679)

Also, does the fact that many phones support voice commands mean that it should be suspected that the microphone is always on? If all the cell providers decide they get remote access to your phone, does that enable all phones to be used as warrant-less bugs? Cell phones aren't exactly voluntary these days. "Required by our civilization" should be the benchmark, not the Amish.

Re:What is the point (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#41002785)

At this point in time, ideas like yours may put you into a terrorist watch list [rt.com] .

You want to disclose information about public officials, you want to make that information public?

Here is what you should find and read in that article I linked to:

On Wednesday, an administrator for the WikiLeaks Twitter account wrote that the site suspected that the motivation for the attacks could be that particularly sensitive Stratfor emails were about to be exposed. A hacker group called AntiLeaks soon after took credit for the assaults on WikiLeaks and mirrors of their content, equating the offensive as a protest against editor Julian Assange, âoethe head of a new breed of terrorist.â As those Stratfor files on TrapWire make their rounds online, though, talk of terrorism is only just beginning.

You see, providing the public with information about the inner government workings is now called 'new breed of terrorism' and I am very confident that what you are talking about can be construed as disclosing information about the inner government working.

---

This is what happens when people give up their individual freedoms, and it all starts with the calls to equality, social contract, etc., all of which means simply one thing and one thing only: giving more power to the government.

Once the government has the powers over the individuals for the sake of "ensuring equality" at this point the government simply has the power over the individuals and there is nothing that can take that power back.

Re:What is the point (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41002587)

Yum. Dog. Drool. We liberals love dog meat!

I agree with you that the ruling seems to make sense. But how is it not news? It places an important market on the boundary between public and private.

And you know, next time I'm smuggling drugs, I certainly will remember to turn off my cell phone.

Must have been small time... (4, Insightful)

gatfirls (1315141) | about 2 years ago | (#41002177)

...To fit the drugs in his phone. Or he had an 80's brick phone?

Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002179)

He was doing something frigging illegal. Are you allowed privacy at all if you do that?

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (0)

Ziggitz (2637281) | about 2 years ago | (#41002225)

Troll or moron?

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41002325)

Moronic troll.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41002413)

Troll or moron?

There's a difference?

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002237)

The problem is, how do you know he was doing anything illegal in the first place?

What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1, Interesting)

avandesande (143899) | about 2 years ago | (#41002317)

If you have a unique flashing blue light on your car and police notice that it shows up at different drug sites in a pattern, are they supposed to ignore it? What is different about the EM radiation from a cellphone other than you not being able to see it?

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 2 years ago | (#41002525)

"What is different about the EM radiation" is that police, "not being able to see it", won't "notice that it shows up at different drug sites in a pattern"

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 2 years ago | (#41002563)

So if the Coast Guard triangulates on the radio of a drug running boat to find it they shouldn't do this either?
If you emit radiation you should assume it is public.

Two big differences (5, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | about 2 years ago | (#41002657)

1) The phone wasn't broadcasting data that the police happened to notice. They had the phone company send the phone commands querying it for it's precise precision (this is a feature that is required by law to be in phones for the purpose of e911). So this was an active search, not a happenstance observation.

2) Because this isn't a signal that just anyone can monitor, but rather one that requires explicit cooperation of the phone company to generate and access, people have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding that signal.

Those two facts essentially are the definition of when a search that requires a warrant.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002727)

Sounds reasonable. If the police are able to point an "EM Reader" at your car, get a number, and it goes into a geolocation database, then notice the same number showing up at different drug sites in a pattern, then I think they should do something about it. However, if the police can point some sort of EM reader at your car and get a number that uniquely identifies your cell phone, then I would consider that a bug in the protocol between your cell phone and the cell phone tower. All of that communication should be encrypted and kept private. If the police have good reason to suspect you, then they can get a warrant for the private information.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1)

Rinikusu (28164) | about 2 years ago | (#41002787)

Good question. Why is it illegal for the police to use IR to view through the walls of a private residence without a warrant? You can't see those, either, but obviously the law does make it an issue...

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1)

mdfst13 (664665) | about 2 years ago | (#41002807)

It wasn't the EM radiation that they were tracking. The police got a court order for the cell phone carrier to send them data on the location of the cell phone.

The confusing thing is how they could have gotten a court order without a warrant. If they had enough for a court order, how didn't they have enough for a warrant justifying the data collection implicit in the court order? The bizarreness of the US legal system.

More discussion of this on a legal site: http://www.volokh.com/2012/08/14/sixth-circuit-rules-that-pinging-a-cell-phone-to-determine-its-location-is-not-a-fourth-amendment-search/?ModPagespeed=off [volokh.com]

Note that to see the comments, you may have to whitelist volokh.com and disqus.com in your Javascript disabler.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002245)

Not if the police obtain a warrant, no. I think few people here would object to police tracking someone's phone /with a warrant/.

Warrants need evidence.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (4, Insightful)

JohnFen (1641097) | about 2 years ago | (#41002367)

You'd better be, because if not, then there is no real privacy for anyone ever.

The legal system doesn't know that he was doing anything illegal until after he's convicted of it. Up until then, he's presumed innocent, but accused of doing something illegal. It may seem like a fine distinction, but it's a critically important one.

To say that someone doesn't get their privacy rights because they're breaking the law is to say that cops get to decide someone's guilt or innocence -- which they don't get to do. Judges get to do that in a court of law. Under existing law, a judge can make this sort of determination during the investigatory phase: it's called "issuing a warrant".

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002399)

Who do you think you are writing such a thing? An appellate court judge? [wired.com]

Judge John M. Rogers wrote for the majority: (.pdf)

        If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen. The recent nature of cell phone location technology does not change this. If it did, then technology would help criminals but not the police.

Oops! Sorry your Honor, my bad.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (2)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41002631)

Because everybody has rights, or nobody has rights. If the police are allowed to use evidence they've gathered illegally, then there's nothing to prevent them from simply spying on everybody.

Re:Why does "reasonable expectation" matter? (2)

Fjandr (66656) | about 2 years ago | (#41002827)

By extension, if the police are allowed to use illegally-gathered evidence there is no protection from manufactured evidence. At that point, a bad guy is defined as anyone the police say is a bad guy. Anyone who believes the latter is a good thing needs to be removed from the gene pool.

Example please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002249)

So can someone point me to a "disposable" cell phone which I can buy for cash in a bricks-and-mortar store?

Re:Example please (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | about 2 years ago | (#41002323)

25% of cellphones in use in this country are of the "disposable" (pre-paid) kind, and yes, you can buy them, with cash, in brick-and-mortar stores.

Re:Example please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002359)

711 prepaid phones.

Re:Example please (1)

JohnFen (1641097) | about 2 years ago | (#41002397)

Tracfone, available at almost every supermarket I set foot in.

Re:Example please (1)

Mike Buddha (10734) | about 2 years ago | (#41002523)

Fry's has pre-paid phones on Verizon for sale for $15.

Look at it this way... (2, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | about 2 years ago | (#41002267)

You're going around shouting at different people and then the police ask these people where they think the noise was coming from. There's not asking what was being yelled, just which direction the noise is coming from. I can see this falling into the range of non-private data, as much as I would like to say it's not.

Re:Look at it this way... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002361)

You're going around shouting at different people and then the police ask these people where they think the noise was coming from. There's not asking what was being yelled, just which direction the noise is coming from. I can see this falling into the range of non-private data, as much as I would like to say it's not.

But that location data resides on third party servers - it's not shouted where all can hear it in a manner that humans could hear such as by voice. It's reasonable to expect that your personal data stored on such a server would require a warrant.

Re:Look at it this way... (1)

Kenja (541830) | about 2 years ago | (#41002407)

You're going around shouting at different people and then the police ask these people where they think the noise was coming from. There's not asking what was being yelled, just which direction the noise is coming from. I can see this falling into the range of non-private data, as much as I would like to say it's not.

But that location data resides on third party servers - it's not shouted where all can hear it in a manner that humans could hear such as by voice. It's reasonable to expect that your personal data stored on such a server would require a warrant.

To keep with my analogy, the person who heard you and is being queried by the police as to your location can refuse without a warent. But in this case, the cell phone providers seem eager to hand over the information. Put another way, once you hand over your information to a third party without a contract protecting your privacy, they can hand it off to the police without your permission or a warent if they so choose. Thats why this decision applies to disposable phones and not regular ones.

Re:Look at it this way... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41002465)

Thats why this decision applies to disposable phones and not regular ones.

Right, because as we all know, cellular carriers are well known for their respecting user privacy in the face of illegitimate requests from law enforcement... /sarc

Re:Look at it this way... (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about 2 years ago | (#41002469)

Nice loophole, huh? The police don't even have to worry about that "privacy" nonsense anymore; they can just get private companies to reveal everything about you. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Re:Look at it this way... (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 2 years ago | (#41002629)

its the MO of the large governments in the US, for a few decades now. didn't you know that?

instead of THEM doing the dirty work, they outsource it. "hey, WE didn't break the law".

in a weird sociopathic way, they justify their incroachment of our liberties. "the end justifies the means" and all that.

not much new. just normal 'progress' toward state control over its serfs. seriously, nothing new; just some new awareness of how bold they are in their trampling of our rights.

Re:Look at it this way... (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 2 years ago | (#41002447)

The article does not say that explicitly- I don't really know much about cell protocols but there may be a way to do it just by looking at the signals.

Re:Look at it this way... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002425)

So if it's public data, then I should be able to use it to stalk my favorite celebrity?

Re:Look at it this way... (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | about 2 years ago | (#41002669)

Well, if the goal of privacy law is to preserve people's expectations, then the two cases are different. People yelling expect to be heard. Non-technical people with a cell phone don't expect to be tracked like a bear with a radio collar.

Re:Look at it this way... (3, Informative)

houghi (78078) | about 2 years ago | (#41002811)

There is a HUGE difference. If they ask the people, they must be there in time. The memory of is not perfect and especially a long time after a specific moment people will not remember, unless there is a very specific reason for it.
And this is not just when there is a noise, it about being able to have a person following you all the time and keeping minute details of what you are doing, including your time at home.

I would say that there is a HUGE difference.

Remember the freedom you were defending by helping out Europe a few years back? Perhaps it is time to return the favour and kick out YOUR evil government. (Yeah, I am aware of Godwin)

Writs of Assistance (5, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | about 2 years ago | (#41002279)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writ_of_assistance [wikipedia.org]

In general, customs writs of assistance served as general search warrants that did not expire, allowing customs officials to search anywhere for smuggled goods without having to obtain a specific warrant. These writs became controversial when they were issued by courts in British America in the 1760s, especially the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Controversy over these general writs of assistance inspired the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which forbids general search warrants in the United States. In the United Kingdom, general writs of assistance continued to be issued until 1819.[6]

General writs of assistance played an important role in the increasing tensions that led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America. In 1760, Great Britain began to enforce some of the provisions of the Navigation Acts by granting customs officers these writs. In New England, smuggling had become common. However, officers could not search a person's property without giving a reason. Colonists protested that the writs violated their rights as British subjects. The colonists had several problems with these writs. They were permanent and even transferable: a writ holder could assign them to another. Any place could be searched at the whim of the holder, and searchers were not responsible for any damage they caused. This put anyone who had such a writ above the law.

Idk, but between border control, the patriot act, and the drug wars, it seems to me that e have a whole lotta writs of assistance in this here "free" country.

Re:Writs of Assistance (2)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 2 years ago | (#41002647)

you are correct.

and how they do this is via 'boiling the frog' by slow cooking.

little by little, we are having our freedom stolen from us.

truly stolen, too; since its being taken by those with guns against our will. I call that theft. don't you??

Re:Writs of Assistance (1)

satanclause (2626589) | about 2 years ago | (#41002841)

truly stolen, too; since its being taken by those with guns against our will. I call that theft. don't you??

If guns are involved, whether used or not, it's robbery - not just theft.

Gotta love them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002305)

Those folks in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sure know how to keep in the news.

Reality... (1, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41002309)

I don't get this persistent desire of people to ignore reality. If something can be done, it will be. Should it be? Possibly not, but again you are ignoring the REALITY.

Can someone track your cell phone when it is on? Yes. Therefore it will be done. If that bothers you, turn it off if you are going somewhere you do not want to be found, or burn phones more often...

Re:Reality... (2)

Relic of the Future (118669) | about 2 years ago | (#41002505)

"Can a SWAT team kick in your door in the middle of the night? Yes. Therefore it will be done. Stop complaining about the reality."

Exactly (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41002625)

"Can a SWAT team kick in your door in the middle of the night? Yes. Therefore it will be done. Stop complaining about the reality."

That is exactly right. If you don't want it to be so, start thinking about disbanding SWAT teams or not allowing them to do B&E at all.

Why are people assembling basically military police teams and then astonished when they act like military teams?

Re:Exactly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002793)

Why are people assembling basically military police teams and then astonished when they act like military teams?

Yeah, certainly it's the same people.

That is exactly right. If you don't want it to be so, start thinking about disbanding SWAT teams or not allowing them to do B&E at all.

Okay, I'll get right on that.

Re:Reality... (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 2 years ago | (#41002653)

I don't get this persistent desire of people to ignore reality. If something can be done, it will be. Should it be? Possibly not, but again you are ignoring the REALITY.

Congratulations, you have just argued away the need for the government get a warrant in any situation at all.

Re:Reality... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002747)

or burn phones more often...

lol, I know right? I'm on my 7th this year!

My car gives out location signal as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002311)

My car gives out location signal as well that police use to track without a warrant. There are lots of items that gives out location signals. Questions is whether under the law user has expectation of privacy or not. If the user has expectation of privacy then you need warrant to track it, else not. By declaring that user does not have expectation of privacy about the cell location, the judge has ruled that it is ok not just for police but for anyone to track your cellphone without your knowledge and you don't have criminal remedy and most likely no civil remedy as well. IANAL, but this is my interpretation of the ruling.

All you have to do is accept you live in a police. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002313)

State same with patting you down for no reason in New York.

Lots of police state things you can do.
Probable cause no longer exist in America, what else can we lose.
All in the name of war on this or that.

Makes Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002315)

I hate to be the jerk saying this, but this kinda makes sense. I mean, you *are* broadcasting a signal that reveals your location. If you don't know the whole world to know something, perhaps you shouldn't shout it at them. If you don't want to be found, don't carry a homing beacon.

I know that the consequences of this are unfortunate - you either need to give up the convenience of modern portable communication or give up the privacy of movement. But I don't think that long-term it leads anywhere good to try to use law to put the technological genie back into the bottle.

Fun Fact: My captcha is "spectrum"

Re:Makes Sense (2)

PortHaven (242123) | about 2 years ago | (#41002509)

So by that logic, they have right to listen into my conversation on my phone since it's broadcasting. Heck, talking in the privacy of my home is broadcasting sound waves.

Oh, hell, I send out alpha waves too. Guess in a few years it'll be legit to listen in on my thoughts when the technologies allows.

Disposable phones (2)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about 2 years ago | (#41002353)

Something I think many users of "disposable" phones fail to realize amidst their presumed anonymity is the factor of unique patterns. For example, if an individual suspected of dealing drugs or any other crime has a phone, chances are that the outgoing and incoming calls fit a pattern unique to that user. Even if frequently disposing of old phones and buying new phones, it hardly requires more than two or three calls to uniquely identify someone. You see, it is so wildly unlikely that anyone else in the world would call Alice's mother, The Dealer, and Bob, that anyone doing so is probably Alice. So even if Alice runs out and gets a brand new phone after every big deal, it may only require calling Bob and one other previously called individual to put a unique flag on a user. Unless the whole network replace their phones in an organized coordinated manner, they at least potentially give away their identity. I don't think it ever required a warrant to do that, but I don't know. As for tracking people via cell-phone, this news is appreciated, but no more to me than an affirmation of the already assumed.

Re:Disposable phones (2)

Relic of the Future (118669) | about 2 years ago | (#41002545)

Two phones. Don't call mom with the burner. (Come on people, at least watch Breaking Bad!)

Re:Disposable phones (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002573)

This only works if you know who The Dealer, Alice's mom, and Bob are. If all of them continually replace their disposable phones, it is less trivial to do these types of searches.

Yet Google is in trouble for gathering WiFi data.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002357)

Why is there an expectation of privacy there?

From TFA: (4, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41002405)

"Perhaps the most important single statement in the ruling refers to the fact that there is no Fourth Amendment violation in use of these techniques because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought phone--even one that is pay-as-you-go," [said Nick Selby, managing director of TRM Partners]

Emphasis mine; let's apply that "logic" to other "voluntary" purchases, and see if it passes the smell test...

there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought house
there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought automobile
there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought pair of pants

Yup, smells like bullshit to me.

Re:From TFA: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002501)

If there's bullshit in your pair on pants I think you have other problems.

Re:From TFA: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002561)

there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought house

Correct, the police doesn't require a warrant to ask your neighbor when you come and go, nor they need a warrant to ask the convenience store for a copy of the recording from their camera that happens to catch your front porch.

there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought automobile

Correct, the police can ask people if they have seen your car around and who was driving it without a warrant. If you have a GPS tracker that sends location data to a third party the police doesn't need a warrant to ask them for the log and the company is free to hand it over barring any contractual obligations. Even if you have a contract saying they won't and they violate it, it's not going to affect the police, you can sue the third party in a civil suit though.

there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the voluntary use of a voluntarily bought pair of pants

Correct again, anyone can tell the police as much as they want about your pants and how and when you wear them. If you leave an obvious RFID tag in place the police might be able to ask for store logs without warrants, they probably can do it even if you didn't know there was a tag, but that doesn't fit the voluntary criteria.

Re:From TFA: (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 2 years ago | (#41002577)

well yes it's bullshit, but it was spouted by some guy named Nick Selby... it's not what the judge said.

The judge compared it to police finding a suspect's location by using a dog to track his scent, which they are allowed to do.

Re:From TFA: (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41002781)

well yes it's bullshit, but it was spouted by some guy named Nick Selby... it's not what the judge said.

The judge compared it to police finding a suspect's location by using a dog to track his scent, which they are allowed to do.

Here is the explanation the judge gave regarding tracking with dogs:

"Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent."

Unless being suspected of a crime now equates to conviction + escape from custody, that little anecdote is utter bullshit.

I would say I'm shocked that a judge would exhibit such a blatantly wrong understanding of the law, but these days, I would find it more surprising if he didn't.

Sounds reasonable. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 2 years ago | (#41002409)

It's a radio transmitter, dammit! When you walk around with an operating radio transmitter spraying rf in all directions the people it is bouncing off of have a right to absorb some of it and do with it as they wish. That includes the cops. If you want no one to know where you are don't broadcast your location.

Re:Sounds reasonable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002533)

Tell that to Directv. I left my foil cap at home and I can feel their signal right now.

Re:Sounds reasonable. (2)

Relic of the Future (118669) | about 2 years ago | (#41002597)

It's illegal for the cops to use an IR camera to observe your house, without a search warrant. "But your body is an infrared transmitter, dammit! When you walk around spraying ir in all directions the people it is bouncing off of have a right to absorb some of it and do with it as they wish! That includes the cops." No, no they do not.

Living (1)

PortHaven (242123) | about 2 years ago | (#41002419)

Living, is justification for monitoring, detention, seizure of assets. If you refuse to accept this, you have the right to cease living.
- .gov

And sadly we tolerate it, because what else are we going to do. Most Americans were sadly to stupid to vote for Ron Paul.

Re:Living (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002611)

>Living, is justification for monitoring, detention, seizure of assets. If you refuse to accept this, you have the right to cease living.

Since when? The right to die by your own choice (suicide) has always been illegal.

Re:Living (1)

PortHaven (242123) | about 2 years ago | (#41002791)

Not in Japan...

Hmm... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41002457)

'if a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal.'

So, anything made of reasonably ordinary matter at a temperature greater than zero Kelvins doesn't enjoy fourth amendment protection? Am I going to have to start using neutrinos as drug mules?

Your whereabouts are _not_ public domain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41002531)

Some people have been likening carrying a phone to announcing your position, shouting with em radiation, etc.
It's not, and we all have an expectation of privacy regarding our cells. We expect the public/other citizen to not be able to see any of our data. The police aren't supposed to be able to either - without a warrant.

What happened here is more akin to the police setting up surveillance of your house, or asking your employer, neighbors, etc for a record of your movement.
No one wants that, and we expect a warrant to be issued if such information is required by law enforcement.

Re:Your whereabouts are _not_ public domain (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 2 years ago | (#41002795)

It's not, and we all have an expectation of privacy regarding our cells.

Who's we? I never had any such illusions, cos I know how a cellphone works. But then, I have an IQ over 80 and I took high school physics... which I guess is more than you can say about a lot of people babbling on their "cells".

inconsistent rulings (1)

magarity (164372) | about 2 years ago | (#41002555)

So how does this equate to the ruling against the police who were using an infrared camera to find the heat given off by sun lamps in home marijuana growers' setups? In that, the judge ruled they DID have an expectation of privacy when emitting in the eletromagnetic spectrum.

Re:inconsistent rulings (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 2 years ago | (#41002819)

In that one, the Supreme Court ruled that because infrared cameras aren't in widespread public use, people don't expect them to be used.

In this one, the court is saying "Well, anyone can call up the phone company and pretend to be a cop without having to produce any kind of papers or paper trail and find out where you are"

Hmmm... it'll probably get overturned (4, Insightful)

sirwired (27582) | about 2 years ago | (#41002579)

This decision seems incompatible with the GPS tracking decision, which said a warrant was required for GPS tracking. IIRC, the GPS decision didn't key off the fact that the cops had to plant a transmitter, they based the decision off the idea that it was really creepy. This seems to be an identical level of creepiness.

smoke signals, searchlights and satellite TV/HBO (1)

neurocutie (677249) | about 2 years ago | (#41002591)

There *is* a certain logic to this ruling. Supposing I communicated to my friends with smoke signals, or a searchlight in the sky (Bat signal?), would I expect privacy for my broadcasting these "signals"? A cell phone does the same thing.

OTOH, the same could be said of radio signals, TV broadcasts, HBO via satellite, etc. These are also broadcast whose raw signals are available for ANYONE to pick up. Yet it is deemed illegal to decode these radio signals, or listen in on cell phone conversations.

These two notions are contradictory to me. Either broadcasted energy/information has NO expectation of privacy or other limitations that prohibit listening, decoding, etc. *or* broadcasted signals of whatever type *do* represent a PRIVATE, non-public channel of information that has an expectation of privacy. Can't be both...

Not over yet (1)

jxander (2605655) | about 2 years ago | (#41002715)

I can't image the 6th Circuit will have the final word on this. Wouldn't be surprised to see this make it all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Given the ubiquity of cell phones in this country, and TFAs assertion that roughly 25% of people are on prepaid.... I'd put a conservative guess around 40-50 million people in the US who just lost a good chuck of their 4th Amendment Rights with this ruling.

Background (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41002733)

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is okay for police to track your cellphone signal without a warrant.

In case you're wondering, the Sixth Court of Appeals is overwhelmingly Republican. Of the thirty justices on the Sixth Circuit, twenty were appointed by Republican presidents (mostly Nixon and G W Bush). Only two were appointed by President Obama.

Re:Background (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41002779)

I'm sorry, inside the parentheses it should have read, "mostly Reagan and G W Bush".

On the other hand when Google does it... (1)

laci (37234) | about 2 years ago | (#41002877)

On the other hand Google gets into hot waters for recording the signals sent from a voluntarily bought and voluntarily used wifi router...

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