The government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause of criminal activity before directing a wireless provider to turn over records that show where customers used cellphones, a judge ruled in Pittsburgh in what the Washington Post called the first federal court opinion on the issue. Judge Terrence McVerry rejected the government’s argument that historical cellphone tower location data did not require probable cause.
The ruling could begin to establish the standard for such requests, which industry lawyers say are routine as more people carry cellphones that reveal their locations. “This is a great ruling for location privacy and for people who think the government should have probable cause before they track you,” said Jennifer Granick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. Orin Kerr, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University, said the decision was “very likely wrong.”