In a victory for law enforcement, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled, 2 to 1, that government authorities could obtain historical cellphone location data directly from telecommunications carriers without a search warrant, the New York Times reports. The court said a warrantless search was “not per se unconstitutional” because location data was “clearly a business record” and not protected by the Fourth Amendment.
The ruling is likely to intensify legislative efforts in Congress and states to consider measures to require warrants based on probable cause to obtain cellphone location data. The New Jersey State Supreme Court last month said the police required a warrant to track a suspect's whereabouts in real time. The 5th Circuit decision “is a big deal and a big blow to Americans’ privacy rights,” said Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union.