Criminals Can be Tracked Through Cell Phone Data

A federal appeals court in the 6th Circuit from the Eastern district of Tennessee ruled that there is no fourth amendment violation when a defendent is tracked through GPS technology on a mobile phone.  Covering the case for the National Law Journal is Bureau Chief Sheri Qualters, who spoke with The Legal Broadcast Network.

The case rose to the 6th Circuit through an appeal of a man convicted of drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Qualters says he was caught because he was using a disposable mobile phone that had a GPS system in it and the argument is that the prosecution violated the fourth amendment right by using GPS tracking.

Qualters notes that this ruling follows the Supreme Court ruling back in 1993, that the government could use a beeper to track a subject via automobile.  The federal appeals court in this case said there was no physical intrusion, as the DEA used the technology that already existed in the criminal's phone, vs. placing the tracking device on the car.  The court said that there is no expectation of privacy in the use of technology and that the government can use any technology available to track criminals.

Qualters says that the majority ruled that "the law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of tools," while the descent disagreed, saying that a criminal's ignorance that their phone didn't have the GPS supports the conclusion that he had a subjective expectation of privacy.

For more information on the article written in the National Law Journal, click here.  Sheri Qualters covers intellectual property, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit and Massachusetts litigation for The National Law Journal.  She is based in Boston, Mass.  Sherri spoke with The Legal Broadcast Network, an on-demand video channel providing legal content.