Court Limits Public Disclosure In Warrantless Phone Tracking


The public has no right to information on criminal cases involving warrantless cellphone tracking if the defendant was acquitted or had a case dismissed, ruled the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., Legal Times reports. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled, 2 to 1, that the defendants' privacy rights outweighed the public's interest in understanding the scope of warrantless cellphone tracking by the government. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. Department of Justice for case names and docket numbers of prosecutions where the government got a court order but not a warrant to obtain cellphone data.

The court ruled three years ago that the Justice Department was required to turn over information on warrantless tracking in in cases in which a defendant was found guilty. The public interest in understanding how law enforcement agencies used warrantless cellphone tracking outweighs the defendants' privacy interest, the court said. Judge David Tatel, joined by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, said the Justice Department overstated the privacy interests of the defendants at issue by comparing them to individuals who were under investigation but never charged. Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote in dissent that she sympathized with the majority's “protective instincts,” but disagreed with their conclusion. “Redemption is still possible, but in the modern world, the right to be left alone, once forfeited, is gone for good,” she wrote. “An individual who is indicted and tried has no privacy interest that can protect the public record of prosecution from disclosure—even if the ultimate outcome was acquittal or dismissal.”

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