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Know Your Rights: Can Law Enforcement Obtain Cell Tower Information To Determine A Person's Location

Cell Towers

In addition to the warrant requirement for cell phones themselves, the Supreme Court just last year held that police cannot obtain cell tower location data without a warrant. For any person who enables location services on his/her cell phone (which is almost everyone), police can obtain records from companies like Google that track every movement of the phone (apparently with remarkable specificity). This means that, presuming your cell phone is with you and location enabled, they can track your every movement going back years. Despite the fact that the data is technically provided to a third party (historically, that would have allowed police to obtain it without a warrant), the Court held that the ability to track movements gives the government too much power, and therefore a warrant is required.

Notwithstanding the Court’s holding about cell tower data, a new issue is on the horizon, likely to wind up before the Supreme Court within the next year or two. Specifically, police have been obtaining, with warrants, cell tower dumps through a process known as “geofencing.” Using this process, police will identify a geographical area that can be quite large – in a current case being handled by our office, the area is 600,000 square feet, including more than 40 homes, half of a public park, and busy streets. They will then seek from Google a list of all devices within that geographical box within a time period – four hours in our current case. Using that list, they then investigate the owners of those devices further.

Again, this seems a bridge too far in terms of power – without question, police are using this to obtain information related to innocent persons that they have no right to obtain. Stay tuned on this issue – it will definitely be before the courts in the coming months, and Suzuki Law is at the forefront of this fight for individual rights to privacy.

Conclusion

The above are just some of the issues that have been and continue to arise respecting cell phones and cell phone towers. Knowing your rights is incredibly important in this developing area of law. Should you confront any of the circumstances discussed herein, or any other issue related to your cell phone or computer or other electronic device, Suzuki Law can help. Call Suzuki Law Offices at (602) 505-0000.

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