The Florida Supreme Court ruled that police must get warrants to track criminal suspects by monitoring their cellphone location signals, Reuters reports. “Because cell phones are indispensable to so many people and are normally carried on one's person, cell phone tracking can easily invade the right to privacy in one's home or other private areas,” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in a 5-2 ruling. The case comes as federal courts around the U.S. wrestle with cellphone privacy and potential violations of the Fourth Amendment protecting citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government.
The Florida court said Broward County sheriff's deputies lacked probable cause to stop Shawn Tracey, who was accused of possessing more than 400 grams of cocaine. The court said investigators obtained a court order to capture telephone numbers of his calls, but “for some unexplained reason” the data included site locations. When an informant tipped police Tracey was going to Cape Coral for a drug deal, they tracked his location and arrested him. The state argued his car could be watched on public roads, but Tracey's attorney said the cellphone surveillance went too far. “Regardless of Tracey's location on public roads, the use of his cell site location information emanating from his cell phone in order to track him in real time was a search within the purview of the Fourth Amendment for which probable cause was required,” Labarga wrote. Because probable cause did not support the search and no warrant had been issued, the evidence obtained could not be used in court, he added.