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A federal appeals court ruled today that the authorities must get a warrant before obtaining a suspect’s mobile-phone location history. It’s a decision squarely at odds with other appellate rulings and one likely to force the Supreme Court’s hand.
The ruling (PDF) from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerns a Florida man, Quartavious Davis, sentenced to life for a string of robberies. His 2012 conviction rested largely on mobile phone records that pegged his location near six of seven heists.
“The court’s opinion is a resounding defense of the Fourth Amendment’s continuing vitality in the digital age,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case before the court. “This opinion puts police on notice that when they want to enlist people’s cell phones as tracking devices, they must get a warrant from a judge based on probable cause.”
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