The United States Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit recently ruled that law enforcement does not have to issue a warrant in order to access historical location data that is stored by cellphone providers.
The court ruled that your location data is a “business record” and is not private information about you protected by the Fourth Amendment. To paraphrase Joe Biden, this is a BFD.
What Your Cell Phone Data Reveals About You
You may think that it’s no big deal that law enforcement can now access your phone’s location data without a warrant. But your phone’s location data actually tells a lot about you. It reveals where you are at any given time, of course. Your phone location data reveals what your habits and preferences are, your religious inclinations and where you worship, and if you attend any political rallies. Are you sure you want the government to know this?
Just to be clear: this ruling does not just say that law enforcement can just access the phone location records of a suspected criminal or as part of a criminal investigation. It says that they can access the phone location information of anyone at any time, for any reason. And they no longer need court oversight to do so.
Your Cell Phone is a Monitoring Bracelet
Let’s put it another way: how would you feel if you were trailed everywhere you went by law enforcement, or if they required you to have a GPS system on your car that only they could access? You probably wouldn’t like it, would you?
But in our current mobile technology age, law enforcement no longer has to do this. Your phone does this for them. The court went on to say that using a cell phone is entirely voluntary, that no one is forcing anyone to use one. But why do we have to give up our right to privacy just to own one?
Privacy advocates are hopeful that the Appeals Court’s decision will be overturned by a higher court. Until then, it’s good to keep in mind that your cell phone is in essence a monitoring bracelet accessible by law enforcement at any time.