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Supreme Court decision could limit cell phone tracking

 (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Supreme Court might decide on whether police can use telephone records without a search warrant, a decision that could affect the mission creep of the war on terror.

Quartavious Davis, a Florida man convicted of seven armed robberies in 2010, is appealing his conviction by arguing that police used his cellphone records without a warrant, action that violated his protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, according to The Hill.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals previously disagreed and sided with the government. An amicus brief has been filed in support of Davis by The Constitution Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The amicus brief notes that the 11th Circuit, which covers Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, found no reasonable expectation of privacy with cellphone records, but the 4th Circuit, encompassing South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, did.

The affiliated institutions would like the Supreme Court “to resolve this split of opinion and make clear that all Americans have an expectation of privacy in their cell site location information under the Fourth Amendment.”

The “differing legal protection under federal law” might encourage the Supreme Court to take the case, but such a contradiction does not guarantee a decision will be issued.

Dozens of police departments have used cell phones to track low-level criminals using laws and technology originally for federal intelligence agencies and anti-terrorism surveillance. If the Supreme Court takes the case and rules in favor of Davis, it could have wide-ranging effects that curb the reach of law-enforcement agencies.

That would be a victory for civil-liberties advocates and spur a revision of post-9/11 legislation that expanded surveillance and police powers.


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