A lot has been going on recently about police and search and seizure laws, data protection, and people's online rights. Thanks or no thanks (depending who you ask) to Edward Snowden we now know the Government takes a lot of liberties with our data and online information. Well, this week a Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling just made a part of this mess somewhat simpler. A Federal Appeals Court in Richmond, Virginia ruled that police need a probable cause warrant to get cell data from your phone. Before this ruling, all courts had just sided with the Government's thought process on this which is the constitution does not protect cell site records. To break all this down, it means that from now on police and law enforcement can no longer track your movements by using cell towers and map locations without a warrant.
Before this ruling, law enforcement could just access your location data and track you wherever you went and for how long you were there with no warrant. Here is how the court broke it down "As we have explained, society recognizes an individual's privacy interest in her movements over an extended period as well as her movements in private spaces. The fact that a provider captures this information in its account records, without the subscriber's involvement, does not extinguish the subscriber's reasonable expectation of privacy. Applying the third-party doctrine in this context would simply permit the government to convert an individual's cell phone into a tracking device by examining the massive bank of location information retained by her service provider, and to do so without probable cause." The third -party doctrine was the Government's way of getting around our constitutional rights by saying that data records are just business documents that could be obtained like legal papers during an investigation.
This whole case picked up steam when two men from Baltimore, Maryland were arrested for one robbery but was later changed because of cell data. Once the police went through all their call and text data, they fond out these men had robbed a lot of different places and added to the charges. When the men's lawyers tried to get that information suppressed the court said the "government relied in good faith" in the manner in which they got the information. But after this week's ruling that way of thinking will no longer work, warrants are needed if law enforcement want to digitally track suspects by their phones and tablets.