Do Cops Need a Warrant to Search Your Cell Phone? How about to Track your Cell Phone?


Folks, interesting times as technology and the law intersect. The latest news from Wall Street Journal Law Blog is that Judges in Pennsylvania have rejected arguments proposed by the government for warrantless cell phone tracking.

How many of you can truly say your cell phone is your life?  With social media and social media applications, millions of Americans now store deeply personal/private information on their mini-computers i.e. cellphones. An issue then arises whether the police should be able to search your cell phone without a warrant. Should they? Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that the police do not need a warrant to search the cell phone of a person who has been arrested. This means if you are arrested, your text messages, documents and other important files, voicemails, social media platforms you might access through your cell phone can be searched, by the police.

How about cell phone tracking? Can the police track your cell phone without a warrant? In the case below, Judges reject warrantless cell phone tracking. Read on. . .

“A fun, albeit surprising/unnerving, fact: The use of cellphone tracking by authorities is more common than wiretaps and the use of GPS tracking. This according to a WSJ survey of local, state and federal authorities.

The widening practice presents one of the biggest privacy questions in a generation: Do police need a search warrant to follow a person’s minute-by-minute movements using satellite or cellphone technology?

Let’s take a look at the numbers. The WSJ identified more than 1,000 instances of cellphone tracking in several large U.S. cities last year through open-records requests and court documents. Magistrate Stephen Smith of Houston, Texas, who approves such surveillance orders, told the Journal he estimates that federal courts alone issue 20,000 to 30,000 cellphone tracking orders annually.

By comparison, federal and state courts approved 3,194 wiretaps in 2010, according to federal records. In a GPS case heard yesterday by the Supreme Court, government lawyers argued the the use of GPS beepers was in the “low thousands” each year.

WSJ’s Julia Angwin and Scott Thurm report that the federal magistrates, led by Smith’s example, are starting to revolt. More than a dozen magistrates have written opinions denying applications for court orders to track cellphones.

The federal government says authorities can use electronic surveillance to track vehicles on public roads without a warrant, citing a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that declared there is no reasonable expectation of privacy there.

The government argues that most cellphone tracking doesn’t require a showing of probable cause and is instead governed by a 1986 law that requires only that police provide a judge with facts “showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe” the material sought is relevant to a criminal investigation.”

Wall Street Journal Law Blog has the full story.