Texas Judge Says Warrantless Cellphone Tracking Violates Fourth Amendment

Get ready for this one, earlier this year a Texas judge determined that warrantless cellphone tracking is indeed unconstitutional. He said that seizing cellphone records without a search warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He said that the records contain date, time, location of telephone when the call was made, and called numbers as well as a plethora of other information stored in the cellphone provider’s records. Judge Hughes, the Texas judge, said that “These data are constitutionally protected from this intrusion.” This comes after a ruling from 2010 when Stephen Smith, another Southern District of Texas judge, said that that unwarranted wiretapping is also unconstitutional. He said that with today’s tracking technology, every aspect of a suspect’s life could be “imperceptibly captured, compiled, and retrieved from a digital dossier somewhere in a computer cloud.” If you’re a private investigator, or a law enforcement officer/agency, this will prevent you from accessing any private cell-phone records.

The Federal government did step in and said that the Fourth Amendment would not apply to cellphone tracking since “a customer has no privacy interest in business records held by a cell phone provider, as they are not the customer’s private papers.”  But regardless of what the Federal Government dictates, Judge Hughes wrote  that  “When the government requests records from cellular services, data disclosing the location of the telephone at the time of particular calls may be acquired only by a warrant issued on probable cause,” Judge Hughes wrote. “The standard under todays law is below that required by the Constitution.” This law will effect cellphone pinging – the act of find a defendant’s location via triangulation services, among other things.

Hughes is trying to change the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 which allows investigators to retrieve records without a warrant. If this goes through, the judge is calling for this law to be revised and changed. We’ll have to see what happens later this month. – The Wall Street Journal