The rapid spread of cellphones with GPS technology has prompted questions about its use in criminal investigations, says the Washington Post. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit stirred the debate last week when it supported police use of a drug runner’s cellphone signals to locate him — and more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana — at a Texas rest stop. The court decided that the suspect “did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy” over location data from his cellphone and that police were free to collect it over several days, even without a search warrant.
The decision riled civil libertarians, who warned that it opened the door to an extensive new form of government surveillance destined to be abused as sophisticated tracking technology becomes more widely available. On Monday, the U.S. attorney in Arizona cited the ruling in defending the use of cellphone data to help arrest a suspect accused of tax fraud. Many legal experts expect the issue eventually to find its way to the Supreme Court. About 100 million Americans carry smartphones capable of emitting location data almost continuously.