Cops shouldn’t have easy access to 220+ days of cell location data, lawyers say

Cops shouldn’t have easy access to 220+ days of cell location data, lawyers say: The case dates back to February 5, 2011, when two men robbed a Burger King and a McDonald’s in Baltimore—10 minutes later, they were caught and cuffed by Baltimore City Police officers. Eventually, Aaron Graham and Eric Jordan were charged with 17 counts of robbery, including the pair of fast food robberies.

A Baltimore City Police Detective first sought and obtained a search warrant for the two cell phones recovered during a search of the getaway car. Prosecutors later obtained a court order (a lesser standard than a warrant) granting disclosure of the defendants’ CSLI data for various periods totaling 14 days when the suspects were believed to have been involved in robberies. The government then applied for (and received) a second application to a another magistrate judge for a new set of CSLI data, covering a period of July 1, 2010 through February 6, 2011 (221 days).

In court, the defendants argued in a motion to suppress this evidence that “the privacy intrusions available through this type of technology are far-reaching and unconstitutional—allowing the government to retroactively track or survey a suspect through his cellular telephone, a device he likely carries with him at all hours of the day and to constitutionally protected places such as his home or church.”

A district judge agreed with the government’s argument (PDF): under the “third-party doctrine,” because the men voluntarily disclosed their own location to their mobile carrier via their phones, they did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The defendants’ motion was denied.