Court Gives Police Green Light To Track mobile phone Signals Without A Warrant

mobile phone gps maps

Photo: Daniel Milford Flathagen/Flickr

A federal appeals court ruled there’s no expectation of privacy when it comes to mobile phone data, The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported Tuesday.That ruling could be very bad for drug dealers using pay-as-you-go phones, the blog pointed out.

Police arrested drug trafficker Melvin Skinner in 2006 by tracking the GPS signal on his pay-as-you-go phone and eventually found him in a motorhome filled with more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana.

The DEA suspected that Skinner registered his throw-away phone under a false name and was communicating with a drug trafficking leader, according to The Law Blog.

After his arrest, Skinner claimed the DEA shouldn’t have been using the mobile phone data because it didn’t have a warrant. When the agency tracked him, he claimed, it violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

But the court said the DEA had every right to track the signal and did not violate his constitutional rights.

“There is no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his […] mobile phone,” Judge John M. Rogers wrote in the ruling, posted by The Law Blog. “The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent.”

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