NY Times: Appeals Court Ruling on GPS Violates Privacy Rights


In an editorial, the New York Times chides the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for a ruling last month that failed to apply longstanding privacy protections to cellphone GPS technology. The case concerned a drug conviction based on information about the defendant's location that the government acquired from a cellphone. The data, apparently obtained with a phone company's help, led to a warrantless search and the seizure of incriminating evidence. The majority opinion held that there was no constitutional violation of the defendant's rights because he “did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cellphone.”

The circuit court panel majority concluded that because the defendant's phone emitted information that could be picked up by law enforcement agents, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy and thus no warrant was needed to conduct the surveillance–decisions that seem at odds with Supreme Court ruling in both 2001 and earlier this year. The Times said, “Carrying a cellphone should not obliterate privacy rights or the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The full Sixth Circuit should grant a pending request for a rehearing and reverse the panel's damaging ruling.”

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