The two men who pointed a gun at the owner of a Denver-area convenience store and emptied the cash register Dec. 28 took the victim’s iPhone. The next day, cops had one of the suspects in custody after AT&T sent investigators updates every 15 minutes showing the device’s location in an apartment, says the Denver Post. As cellphone tracking becomes a more effective and relied-upon step in building criminal cases, the practice has pitted law enforcement against privacy advocates worried about turning the cellphone against its owner.
At the heart of the debate is how police and prosecutors obtain information on a cell user’s whereabouts. Should they be required to show fact-based probable cause, the standard that must be met to obtain a search warrant or meet some lower standard? The U.S. Supreme Court last week jolted the legal community when five of nine justices indicated that using cellphones to track people’s movements in real time without a search warrant could violate Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure.