Friday, August 17, 2012

Yet another nail in privacy's coffin

Our vanishing right to privacy, and the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, took another judicial hammering yesterday.  Ars Technica reports:

In a 2-1 ruling, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that law enforcement has the right to obtain location data from a cellphone in order to track a suspect without a warrant. The case involves a man named Melvin Skinner, a newly convicted drug trafficker, who was part of a cross-country, large-scale drug operation organized by another man, James Michael West.

Skinner had appealed his many convictions: conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering, aiding and abetting the attempt to distribute in excess of 100 kilograms of marijuana. His attorneys argued that the government’s use of his GPS location information from his phone, which led to his arrest, constituted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

"There is no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cell phone," wrote Judge John Rogers, in the majority opinion. "If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal."

. . .

In the court’s majority opinion, Judge Rogers specifically referred to the Jones v. United States case, which was decided by the United States Supreme Court in January 2012. In that unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that law enforcement does not have the authority to warrantlessly place a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle.

However, in this case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that "no such physical intrusion occurred."

"Here, the monitoring of the location of the contraband-carrying vehicle as it crossed the country is no more of a comprehensively invasive search than if instead the car was identified in Arizona and then tracked visually and the search handed off from one local authority to another as the vehicles progressed," Judge Rogers added in the decision.

There's more at the link.

I hope this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, and overturned there . . . but after SCOTUS' dismal performance concerning Obamacare, I have my doubts.


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