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New Court Decision Affirms that 4th Amendment Protects Location Information


Government Must Get a Warrant Before Seizing Cell Phone Location Records

San Francisco - 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.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) had asked the federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania to overturn a magistrate judge’s decision requiring the government to obtain a warrant for stored location data, arguing that the government could obtain such information without probable cause. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), at the invitation of the court, filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the government’s appeal and arguing that the magistrate was correct to require a warrant. Wednesday, the court agreed with EFF and issued an order affirming the magistrate’s decision.

EFF has successfully argued before other courts that the government needs a warrant before it can track a cell phone’s 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 phone’s location from the mobile phone provider.

“Cell phone providers store an increasing amount of sensitive data about where you are and when, based on which cell towers your phone uses when making a call. Until now, the government has routinely seized these records without search warrants,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “This landmark ruling is hopefully only the first of many. Just as magistrates across the country have begun denying government requests to track cell phones in real-time without warrants, based on arguments first made by EFF, so too do we hope this decision will spark new scrutiny of the government’s unconstitutional seizure of stored cell phone location records.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU Foundation of Pennsylvania, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) joined EFF’s brief.

For Wednesday’s decision:

For the full amicus brief in the cell phone records case:

For the magistrate’s order:

For more on cell phone tracking:


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