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Do Police Need a Warrant to Obtain Cell Phone Access?

Do Police Need a Warrant to Obtain Cell Phone Access?

Likely everyone knows that the fourth amendment guarantees protection against unlawful search and seizure of personal person, property and belongings. Recent headlines have brought up questions on how this amendment should be applied when considering data technology like cell phones. Legal experts are following a case where a robbery suspect was apprehended and gave up the cell phone numbers of other suspected robbery accomplices. Police did not get a warrant prior to accessing the location records of a suspect’s cell phone using The Stored Communication Act to obtain the information.


The message of this article discusses potential cell phone access issues. Carpenter v. United States is in the hands of the Supreme Court awaiting a ruling. This legal issue can potentially affect any United States citizen that uses a cell phone. In the mentioned case, robbery suspect Carpenter is arguing that his fourth amendment rights were violated by the actions of law enforcement that unlawfully gained location GPS tracking movements from his personal cell phone. His cell phone was determined by pings off cell phone towers to be in the vicinity of the locations where burglaries took place at the same time when several different burglaries happened.


Carpenter is arguing that the information gained was a result of illegal search and seizure activities by the law enforcement officers working the burglary cases. He wants the cell phone location data to be inadmissible thereby gaining his freedom. Law enforcement only obtained the location data, and times of phone calls during the burglaries. No personal cell phone data other than that was obtained. This case has the potential of changing or establishing the legalities of electronic personal data collection procedures legal by law enforcement. Many are watching this groundbreaking case that magnifies what a person can deem to be kept private in the matter of technologically advanced communication devices like cell phone records.


Private citizens have the right to privacy involving their persons and property unless law enforcement obtains a search warrant. To do this, law enforcement officers need to prove to a judge that they have probable cause for the search. This new digital age that we are living in has presented some major new legal questions that the courts are busy trying to decipher. This case involved a third party that shared the cell phone owner’s tracking by cell phone location movements in order to establish that the cell phone was in close proximity to the establishments that were robbed.


The big question for the Supreme Court Justices to decide is whether a private citizen has the reasonable expectation of privacy in the matter of cell phone tracking technologies. Other recent court rulings in similar type cases have varied somewhat and are not fully explained. If the high court rules that the search was illegal due to the officers neglect to obtaining a valid search warrant, an accused bank robber will go free. Many individuals are concerned over the rights of the government and police officials in matters involving personal data information stored on their electronic technological devices such as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and on personal computers and now cell phones. Individuals wanting legal careers can now get an online Master of Laws degree.

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