Recent Ruling on Privacy Laws Upholds No Right to Location Privacy
Privacy Laws and “Location Privacy”
In May 2016, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a case involving “cell site” and location privacy information on the location of a criminal suspect’s mobile phone. The court ruled, 12-3, that police do not need to get a warrant in order to get mobile phone location data for criminal investigations. Because cell phone users’ data are routed through cell towers, cell phone location information, including hotel bills, credit card statements, and social media profiles, is not considered private.
The majority opinion stated that a search warrant is not needed for the location data because cell phone users “voluntarily” give up that data to carriers whenever they use their phone for a call or text message. Because the data is disclosed to the cell phone companies, a third party, phone users have no reasonable expectation of privacy, so the Fourth Amendment – the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures – does not apply in this case.
The dissenting opinion argued that the average cell phone user generally does not understand which cell phone tower their phone data would be routed through, and that this ruling violates the right to “location privacy.”
This ruling raises many concerns and may be a slippery slope. The issue will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.