Cell Phone Location Tracking Without a Warrant

April 13, 2016

In the age of smart phones, information that is automatically collected by cell phone towers has the potential to reveal an enormous amount of personal information about our whereabouts, including the types of doctors we see, how often we attend church, and whose houses we sleep in at night.  In March 2015 the ACLU led a coalition of public interest groups in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that such information should not be available to law enforcement unless it is obtained through a search warrant signed by a judge. 

Unfortunately, in April 2016 the Sixth Circuit, in a split decision, rejected our argument, holding that the government did not conduct a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes when it obtained cell phone location information from wireless carriers, and therefore did not need a warrant. 

(United States v. Carpenter; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; National ACLU Attorneys Nathan Wessler and Ben Wizner; Rachel Levinson-Waldman and Michael Price of the Brennan Center; Gregory Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology; Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Kristina Supler of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.)

To view the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket, click here.