Data privacy of smartphone owners is one of the most controversial topics in the tech world right now. On the one hand, those who are for privacy, stipulate that above all else, a mobile device owner should be able to have their data, location and everything in between secured from prying eyes and especially in the absence of a court-issued warrant. While those who are against such blanket prohibiting of access, argue it is in the best interest of everyone for relevant agencies to be able to gain access to data when needed.
While this is a debate which spiked recently thanks to the difference of opinion between Apple and the FBI over access to a particular iPhone, one aspect which has been hotly debated over the last year or two is the notion of whether law enforcement agencies need to acquire a warrant to obtain a cellphone’s location from carriers. Back in August of last year, a U.S. Court deemed that law enforcement agencies do indeed require a warrant. A move which looked to be paving the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to also address the issue in due course.
However, that verdict has now been overturned again by a U.S. court. Last year’s ruling in favor of warrants came by way of a 2-1 vote. Today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, again voted and this time voted 12-3 in favor of removing the warrant obstacle for law enforcement agencies. As a result and based on today’s ruling, law enforcement agencies will be able to obtain the whereabouts of a smartphone directly from carriers and without the need for a warrant. A sentiment which was echoed by another U.S. court only last month. One of the reasons given for this latest decision is that owners of smartphones do (on some level) inherently understand that they are volunteering data to providers and by association, effectively provide permission for that data to be accessible. While this latest development will not automatically remove the likelihood of the Supreme Court looking at the issue, it is likely to be a decision which lessens the chance of this making it before the Supreme Court.