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DOJ Needs Warrant To Track Your Cell's GPS History 122

Posted by kdawson
from the where-did-you-go-and-who-did-you-go-there-with dept.
MacRonin recommends a press release over at the EFF on their recent court victory affirming that cell phone location data is protected by the Fourth Amendment. Here is the decision (PDF). "In an unprecedented victory for cell phone privacy, a federal court has affirmed that cell phone location information stored by a mobile phone provider is protected by the Fourth Amendment and that the government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before seizing such records. EFF has successfully argued before other courts that the government needs a warrant before it can track a cell phones location in real-time. However, this is the first known case where a court has found that the government must also obtain a warrant when obtaining stored records about a cell phones location from the mobile phone provider."
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DOJ Needs Warrant To Track Your Cell's GPS History

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  • by xpuppykickerx (1290760) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:32AM (#24979101)
    Before committing a major crime, give cell phone to a small child as a gift.
    • Not going to work -- the DOJ(Department of Jerkoffs) will extract your DNA from your ear-grease you left all over the faceplate.
      • by Dunbal (464142) on Friday September 12, 2008 @11:01AM (#24979533)

        the DOJ(Department of Jerkoffs) will extract your DNA from your ear-grease you left all over the faceplate.

        Gloves, plastic bags, tape, hands free system (which you dispose of seperately). No such thing as too careful. Of course a real serial killer can still live without a telephone for a few hours. It's part of the sacrifices of the job.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by j_166 (1178463)

          "Of course a real serial killer can still live without a telephone for a few hours. It's part of the sacrifices of the job."

          What am I supposed to do between torture sessions with my victims then, chit-chat with them? Normally I use that time to catch up on my RSS feeds.

      • HAH! I obstruct justice daily... I use Bluetooth!
    • by FireStormZ (1315639) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:44AM (#24979313)

      Naa tie it to a dogs collar and set him loose in a neighborhood...

      • It would be way more fun to hear about the FBI storming an elementary school.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          It would be way more fun to hear about the FBI storming an elementary school.

          They would probably taser a bunch of five year-olds for not being cooperative. "I told them to get down, but all they would do is cry and say 'I want my mommy!' The book says we should taser non-cooperative suspects, so that's what we did." And then some scum-bag lawyer would argue that the police acted within their authority and that the law does not distinguish between a 200 lb drugged-up brute attacking a police officer and

      • They'll have already remote-activated the microphone, and --if the target is a Person of Interest-- they'd have had also had ground assets in the area looking for a divergence between the target and the target's monitored electronics.

        I would not be surprised if nowadays they erect aerosol dispensers (colorless, odorless, visible by satellite or local aerial units...) around the doors of targets to "tag" them when they depart or when guests enter.

        If there are multiple ports on the dispenser, targets can be "

    • ... except when said crime is pedophilia.
  • Well, not really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PainMeds (1301879) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:34AM (#24979129)
    TFA suggests that they only need a warrant to obtain this information from the mobile carrier, but in some cases this information is available from the devices themselves. The iPhone is a good example of this - software can easily be installed on the device (kind of like a LoJack) to report back GPS location, and the iPhone itself apparently keeps logs of GPS positioning, based on this book [amazon.com]'s claims. I would argue that this form of surveillance would be just as loosely managed as police placing GPS transponders on vehicles [tennessean.com].
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by liquidpele (663430)
      I wonder if the warrant has to be to get the data from YOU or from the cell COMPANY? Did they specify who owns that info? Because if it's the company, the could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant.
      • The information is obtained from the cell company.
        • Well duh, but my question is who *owns* the information. It's like I "own" my medical records, the Hospital can't just give those to whoever they want. But Kroger could give away freely my history of buying groceries if there are not any privay laws stating otherwise. My question is can the Cell companies willingly give the info, or is a warrant required for *any* type of disclosure to anyone accept the person with the account. My guess is the former...
          • Correct, a warrant has to be signed by a judge and shown to the cell company before the cell company can release records. The cell company could be in big trouble by releasing it without the warrant.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        I wonder if the warrant has to be to get the data from YOU or from the cell COMPANY? Did they specify who owns that info? Because if it's the company, the could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant.

        The court said the police can't ask for the information without a warrant.
        You're suggesting the phone company "could still voluntarily give up the info without the need for a warrant."

        Those two statements are mutually incompatible.
        If the police cannot ask without a warrant, how do you propose the phone company will voluntarily give up your location?
        -1 Overrated for you.

        • by delong (125205) on Friday September 12, 2008 @11:55AM (#24980571)

          -5 overrated for you. The police don't need a warrant to ask for anything. Consent is always sufficient, no warrant required. A warrant is only required to compel disclosure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BountyX (1227176)
      This is actually good. It gives us more legal protection than we had before. The NSA and FBI have been sniffing GPS since early 2000 and they already have access to the roving bug and triangulation for older phones. At least the courts are saying...woah there...you need a warrant. Nothing new, we just have formal 4th ammendment protection now.
      • by nmos (25822)

        The NSA and FBI have been sniffing GPS since early 2000 and they already have access to the roving bug and triangulation for older phones.

        Cell phones in the US havn't had reliable GPS for anywhere near that long. Now, the ability to see what tower any give cell phone is connected to is another story.

    • in some cases this information is available from the devices themselves.

      And why would they be allowed to search that without a warrant? They can't very well snoop through your files just because they want to.

  • by ilovesymbian (1341639) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:35AM (#24979137)

    What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished?

    Its analogous to the red light traffic cameras that take photos of those who jump the red light, irrespective of who's driving the car, the owner is fined!

    • it is just a dollar civil fine w/ no possible penalties (it doesn't go on your record)

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by rickb928 (945187)

        In Arizona, it doesn't take but two red light tickets to get your license suspended. You can avoid this by taking traffic school which is a minimum of 8 hours. If you're not careful, you can find your license suspended, pay >$300, and still have points that leave you subject to a non-appealable suspension on another infraction. Not a 'no possible penalties' situation to me...

        As an aside, AZ just enacted traffic laws making it illegal to traverse the 'gore area', that triangle where an exit ramp separa

        • We have a similar thing for being ticketed x times for y violation here, but video tickets, at least here and CO don't go on your abstract. If a cop writes you a Red Light ticket though, you are basically SOL.

          I have to say, I am all for it. I make it a priority to stop on yellow. I drive a pretty quick care, and I hate when people make me sit at a green light because they are trying to scoot through a recent red.

          Now I just make it a game, and see how close I can come to hitting a red light runner so I ca

          • I drive a pretty quick CAR not care 8')

            Also, I am not seriously trying to hit someone, it's my responsibility to go on green "if it is clear."

            • by rickb928 (945187)

              In AZ, video tickets are tickets. Photo summons they are called, and they count. Even for red lights.

              You got it easy.

    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:50AM (#24979377)

      The wonderful thing about a murder investigation is that they actually do an investigation. So as yoda would say "Being there, guilty makes you not."

      This is the mistake I see being made by 90% of overly cautious privacy advocates. If you're concerned about the government knowing where you are and hauling your ass off to some secret prison to torture you without a trial... then the the country is in far more dire straights than can be fixed with a couple of privacy laws.

      If the government is going to frame you... why go through the hastle of actually using real footage.
      If the government's case against you is "his phone was at the scene of the crime when it was committed" and they win then you've got far bigger problems in your legal system then needing a warrant.

      I completely agree with the legal decision that digital information should be only accessible through a warrant. Just like I think that surveilance footage should only be accessible through a warrant. If 'the law' can riffle through my stuff in my apartment with a warrant then I see no problem with them rifling through my digital stuff with a warrant.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        This is the mistake I see being made by 90% of overly cautious privacy advocates. If you're concerned about the government knowing where you are and hauling your ass off to some secret prison to torture you without a trial... then the the country is in far more dire straights than can be fixed with a couple of privacy laws.

        You are assuming a 'vast conspiracy' problem. Before that stage comes the one of a bunch of little conspiracies. Like individuals in positions of authority abusing that authority for personal reasons - like harassing ex-girlfriends and their new boyfriends, or individual police officers abusing the system to manipulate courts to convict people they 'just know' are guilty, or incumbent politicians using surveillance information to gain an unfair advantage over political challengers (sort of like the way Ho

        • by j_166 (1178463)
          or even just cops who are fuckups, and use the system to cover up their incompetence so they don't get fired.
        • by Artifakt (700173)

          Plus there's the non-privacy related 'problems we have to contend with'. Like the Denver area government officials who apparently took huge bribes from some of the big oil companies. Some of the bribes allegedly included drugs provided by hookers, but the DEA isn't involved in the investigation, (at least yet). Anyone willing to bet that the officials who were getting away with this for years would have drawn the line at any other abuse because it was privacy related? Anyone willing to bet that, if they get

      • by xant (99438) on Friday September 12, 2008 @11:43AM (#24980339) Homepage

        If the government is going to frame you... why go through the hastle of actually using real footage.

        Because they don't know if they want to frame you yet. We're all anonymous and faceless.. until some tracking trend decides that we'd be a nice scapegoat. You have to show up on somebody's radar for that to happen. Your unusual, slashdot-reading, open-source programming, bookstore-visiting habits might be enough. Don't give them any hooks to go after you. If they can't track it, they won't be interested what it says about you--or what they can make it appear to say about you.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by morgauo (1303341)

        "If you're concerned about the government knowing where you are and hauling your ass off to some secret prison to torture you without a trial... then the the country is in far more dire straights than can be fixed with a couple of privacy laws."

        The point is to head things off with the privacy and other civil liberties laws long before it reaches the point of people disapearing into secret prisons, etc...

        I think history shows us pretty clearly that tyranny is the natural end that governments evolve towards i

        • Yes but what makes you think the government will respect those privacy "laws"?

          The problem is being wrongfully arrested not the government knowing where you were. Our energy and time and money should be put towards protecting people from the government not legislating escape hatches to protect us FROM a tryannical government.

          I see gun control laws the same way. I don't see a reason to ban an assault rifle vs a hunting rifle but I also don't see the "to save us from a dictatorship" as a legitimate reason ei

          • by morgauo (1303341)

            "Yes but what makes you think the government will respect those privacy "laws"?"

            They will not. They already have not. Still, I don't think the time has come to give up on using the law to protect our constitutional rights. If it has then what else do we have? Give up and let the tyrants rule? Revolution? I just don't think we are there yet.

            It's the minds of the people we have to change. Make them stop believing in the growing dictatorship. It's hard to imagine doing that while turning our backs on t

            • Which is why I advocate the current law that a warrant is required (as mentioned in my GP post). However many people are taking it a step further and talking about the 'liability' and invasion of privacy of that information existing. That the government will be routinely using this information to track everybody. When in reality we're already miles past the point where we can easily hide from the government. Want to use a credit card? Visa know where I am every day. My cell phone logs, IP addresses, e

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It's not a question of being framed. It's a question of overzealous police and prosecutors deciding that you are guilty, then coming up with the evidence to prove it. This is a well known and common problem. It's just human nature. Police nearly always decide on who is guilty long before sufficient evidence of guilt is available. That's why our system protects suspects so greatly, because that's the only way to prevent them from being hanged by "good" people who believe that they are entirely in the right.

    • >What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished? You're worried about the police cell phone tracking you in the event someone steals your cell phone? :) >Its analogous to the red light traffic cameras that take photos of those who jump the red light, irrespective of who's driving the car, the owner is fined! And if your car has been stolen you can explain that in court and get it reversed. If someone else was driving your car, you can take them to small cla
    • What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished?

      Well, if you're sitting in an interrogation room, and AT&T says your phone is in Disneyland, probably not.

    • What if someone stole my iPhone 3G and committed a crime? Will I be tracked and punished?

      Its analogous to the red light traffic cameras that take photos of those who jump the red light, irrespective of who's driving the car, the owner is fined!

      I had a friend who got fined for driving a car that wasn't his because his face was in a set of those photos. The owner of the car got the notice, but he wrote to explain who had been driving and sent along photos of both of them (they didn't like each other much anymore) and the fine was sent to the driver.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:36AM (#24979151) Homepage

    It scares me that this is considered an "unprecedented" victory. This looks like a clear-cut example of what the 4th amendment is meant to do. If the government wants access to private data they must have a warrant. Why is that so difficult to understand? It's one of the cornerstones of justice.

    Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, unless it is specially protected in some way. That is backwards.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jrockway (229604)

      Well, the data is not clearly yours. They could get it from the cell phone companies, who may be happy to violate your rights without a warrant.

      If I was carrying around a pocket GPS device, of course the police would need a warrant to dump the history and have it be admissible in court. I hope...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by qwertphobia (825473)

        Yes, the data is mine, it's completely about me so it is mine. It cannot be considered directory information or public records.

        Let's see if we fight the same fight for GPS data from our cars or our running shoes.

        In a similar way, my medical & health information is also mine, since it is about me, independant of how that information was created, observed, or gathered. Yes, I understand there are special protections in place specifically for medical information - I really intend to address how I fee

        • by idontgno (624372)

          Yes, the data is mine, it's completely about me so it is mine. It cannot be considered directory information or public records.

          <discussion type="Devil's advocate">And if I wrote an unauthorized biography of you, based on private investigators tailing you and observing your publicly-accessible data and publicly-viewable facts (such as the location of the newsstand where you bought that *ahem* picture magazine), is that data yours? I'm not sure that case law agrees.</discussion>

          I agree with the

          • The difference is that I would consider the data generated about me by my phone to be my data. I believe that's what they were trying to say.

            If an investigator witnessed me in certain situations I would consider that piece of data to belong to that investigator.

            • by idontgno (624372)

              Well, it's your phone, but it's also the telco's cell tower and switch system. Do you own them? Do you own the data about that network transaction, by virtue of ownership of (at most) 1/3 of the participating nodes (phone, at least 1 tower, at least 1 switch)? You don't even have a majority stake in that data!

              Stuff on your phone not involving the phone network, you clearly own. That's why normal personal search-and-seizure laws apply to the phone book and call log in the phone itself. However, most of the m

        • by hey! (33014)

          No the GP has it right, legally speaking.

          You can dispose of any information you have gained by proper means any way you like, with a few exceptions like when you have a fiduciary duty. It's not fundamentally different from anything else you have a right to do. You're free to spread the information, but in some cases there might be consequences.

          If information about other people you got by legitimate means were their property, you wouldn't be able to do anything with it without their opt-in. It's not hard

          • You can dispose of any information you have gained by proper means any way you like, with a few exceptions like when you have a fiduciary duty. It's not fundamentally different from anything else you have a right to do. You're free to spread the information, but in some cases there might be consequences.

            I wouldn't be so sure about that. Lots of folks (myself included) work with information that could be considered personal, sensitive, and confidential. We have an obligation to ensure this information is not distributed, modified, or disposed of improperly. Some restrictions are legal, some are policy, others are maybe just common sense. Unless you consider the whole employment thing to be fiduciary.

            There's also defamation, libel and slander. Anyone who distributes information, knowing it is false, ca

    • by Verdatum (1257828)
      precedent is a legal term. Just because a senario is obviously protected by the 4th amendment does not mean the senario has been explicitly tested in court. This article is just saying "now this one has". The only argument against this ruling is the one jrockway presents just above.
    • by Sun.Jedi (1280674)

      Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, unless it is specially protected in some way. That is backwards

      Correction.

      The Patriot Act is not spelled b-a-c-k-w-a-r-d-s.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bob9113 (14996)

      Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, unless it is specially protected in some way. That is backwards.

      Today, it seems like the thinking is that the government can get access to anything they want, even when it is specially protected by The Constitution. That is backwards.

      There. Fixed that for ya.

      As to unprecedented, I think it means, "Unprecedented since 9/11, when we all decided that being terrified is a reasonable response to terrorism." Or, alterna

    • by bugnuts (94678)

      This looks like a clear-cut example of what the 4th amendment is meant to do.

      The fact this article was on 9/11 is revealing.

      Generally, the phone companies give all information to the police, at their request, except for actual tapping of conversations.

      What makes this landmark is that the records are included, not just real-time spying on citizens.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! (33014)

      Actually, you are mistaken on this.

      We went through this years ago with a device called a pen register. You clipped it onto the old analog phone lines, which used voltage changes driven by a spring loaded rotary dial to transmit phone numbers to mechanical switches. Because you disclosed the phone number to the carrier (obviously, you'd have to), it wasn't yours personally; it wasn't your papers, your effects and was not in your home. Therefore it didn't fall under the fourth amendment.

      There's an import

      • by sgtrock (191182)

        There's an important constitutional theory (decried by some conservatives) that says the Bill of Rights isn't just about what it says, that we have to reinterpret it as circumstances. Certain right fall into the so-called "penumbra" of the Bill; they aren't right in the shadow, but they're close to the edge. This view stems from the Ninth, which says we aren't allowed to treat the Bill of Rights as a bill -- an exhaustive list.

        The problem with that theory is that it isn't even wrong because it takes the Nin

    • You may think this is a simple constitutional question, but it isn't.

      In Smith v. Maryland (1979), the Supreme Court ruled that lists of telephone numbers from outgoing calls (so called "pen registers [wikipedia.org]") are not constitutionally protected because the telephone subscriber voluntarily discloses that information to the telephone company. Given that precedent, it's a tenable argument (although one rejected by the court in this case) to suggest that GPS logs are also unprotected for the same reason.

  • Great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OldFish (1229566) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:36AM (#24979155)
    but it's a regional decision only at this point and barely scratches the surface of the civil rights and privacy issues that plague American Citizens today. Smile but don't get happy yet.
  • the DOJ? warrants? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamwhoiamtoday (1177507) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:37AM (#24979189)
    since when did the DOJ actually use warrants to get what it wanted?
  • Won't stop them (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It's not like law or constitution ever stopped gov't from doing whatever they want.
  • sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drDugan (219551) on Friday September 12, 2008 @10:43AM (#24979293) Homepage

    Now is a dark, dark hour in US history when a court upholds the Constitution and the words "unprecedented victory" are used in the coverage of the event.

    • Ummm...the words "unprecedented victory" can only be accurate in description of this very specific issue. And besides this, why would the arguably sensationalist description used in reporting an event reflect the "darkness" of the times?!

      Oh, wait, I had just forgotten to put on my doom-and-gloom hat...
      *adjusts tinfoil*
      ZOMG, you're sooo right!! We're soooo going to hell in a handbasket!! It's all because of {insert name of hated group/person}!!
    • Re:sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday September 12, 2008 @12:08PM (#24980805) Journal

      Now is a dark, dark hour in US history when a court upholds the Constitution and the words "unprecedented victory" are used in the coverage of the event.

      Well since this case had no legal precedent for the Judges to rely on, it stands to reason that the decision was unprecedented in the most literal sense of the word.

      Lawyers use unprecedented as a technical term.
      Get off your drama pony.

    • by KGIII (973947) *

      Now is a dark, dark hour in US history

      You are about to be eaten by a grue.

  • Thanks, EFF (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ohxten (1248800)
    Thank you EFF. About time.
  • Whatever for? That sounds like Police State tactics. Datamine to find your acquaintances so that they can be arrested, too.
    • by Verdatum (1257828)
      Services providers can keep whatever records they like (with a few odd exceptions). It's up to their privacy agreement whether or not they actually do anything with it, commercially speaking. AFAIK there is nothing requiring a service provider to save this type of information, so it is possible the LEA can obtain a warrant only to get the response, "Are you crazy? We don't have the storage space to maintain that kind of trivial information!". LEAs gets this response all the time for warrants on ISPs; ch
      • by Catbeller (118204)

        Corporations do not have rights, as they are not humans. The government - us have granted privileges to them, such as immunity to personal liability and enormous tax breaks. They can bargain en masse.

        They have no "right" to spy on anyone because they own property. They have only what we grant them, and no more.

        • by Verdatum (1257828)
          Perhaps you are replying to the wrong post, as mine makes no mention of corporations having rights. I'm talking about what corporations must do to keep their FCC license to operate...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mdfst13 (664665)

      According to the article, they keep records of the cell phone towers used to interact with your phone. I know the summary says GPS, but that's not what the EFF attorney said in the article.

      There are any number of perfectly good reasons for cell phone companies to track cell phone tower usage. That's their equipment. There are even reasons (e.g. potential billing disputes) why they might not want to anonymize that data.

  • by FudRucker (866063)
    a warrent for the government Goon Squad be no more difficult than getting a note from your mother when you were a child going to school...
  • If the phone company is keeping record, why shouldn't I have access to all such personal data that they have on me? It may be rather fun to study my travel activity without having to also carry around an additional GPS-enabled device or having to buy a new phone with accessible GPS data. For those days when I'm off the ball and forgot what it was I did yesterday.
  • We need a gps proxy architecture. Would be difficult to setup. Im afraid this might require specialized hardware :( any ideas?
  • So the feds can't just pull folks' GPS history willy-nilly, but the Cell providers can track folks history all they like, and do whatever they want with it. Thank goodness our rights are protected..
    • by Vegeta99 (219501)

      For some reason, I don't think AT&T is ready to beat down my door with M16A2s because they THINK i'm a drug dealer terrorist anytime soon

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Friday September 12, 2008 @11:29AM (#24980045) Journal

    The language of the fourth amendment isn't ambiguous at all. Anyone who's passed the bar should know damned well that obtaining records from a private party requires a warrant.

    -jcr

  • The Constitution hasn't been much of an impediment to date. What's one more court ruling?

  • nothing more to say about that

  • Doesn't that work out in the DOJ's favor?
  • So what does this ruling really do for you? Nothing except make you "feel" like you have privacy. If they want to look at your GPS logs they have legal precendence to do so without a warrant, and they now also have a law in writing that keeps it from being criminal.
  • That do not have this capability (GPS), several smaller companies still offer these phones.

  • Aren't warrants so outmoded these days?

  • Well that is good to hear BUT I'll bet the MAJOR exclusion is FISA.
    Somehow I don't think the feds will obey this.

  • My cell phone has 'gps' but as far as I can tell it's completely useless.

    There is no way, using my cell phone for me to get lattitude, longitude and elevation.

    There is a way to 'disable gps except for 911' which I clicked. Presumably this means that if you use your cell to call 911 then they can get your lattitude, longitude and elevation, but I can not. Why would I want other people I call to know my gps? I can't guess. However my wife has a cell phone with a similarly useless GPS feature. I turned o

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