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EFF Press Release Archives

EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: September 2012

September 28, 2012

Government Wants to Collect Months of Location Data Without a Warrant

New Orleans - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge a federal appeals court Tuesday to recognize cell phone users' privacy rights and require that the government obtain a warrant before collecting cell phone location information. The oral argument is set for 9 a.m. on October 2nd in New Orleans.

At issue in Tuesday's hearing are government requests for judicial orders authorizing the disclosure of 60 days of location data from two separate cell phone companies as part of a routine law enforcement investigation. A magistrate judge denied the request, saying the government needed to apply for a search warrant supported by probable cause to obtain the information. The district court judge agreed with the magistrate's finding, and the government appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

In this case – and in many others across the U.S. – the government claims that cell phone users give up their privacy rights because they have voluntarily disclosed their physical location to the cell phone providers every time a phone connects to the provider's cell tower. Government attorneys argue this means investigators do not need a warrant to get access to location history. However, this theory undermines privacy in nearly any networked communication. At Tuesday's hearing, EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury will argue that obtaining a warrant for cell location data is essential to ensuring Fourth Amendment protections.

Tuesday's hearing comes just weeks after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit allowed the government access to cell phone location records without a warrant. That conflicts with a 2010 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which ruled that a court could require the government to obtain a search warrant to access location information. The case being argued Tuesday is just the third case to reach the federal appellate courts on this issue, and the conflicting circuit court decisions could encourage Supreme Court attention.

Oral argument In Re: Application for Historical Cell Site Data

Tuesday, October 2
9 a.m.

John Minor Wisdom United States Court of Appeals Building
Room 265
600 Camp Street
New Orleans, LA 70130


Hanni Fakhoury
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation

Rebecca Jeschke
   Media Relations Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues:
September 14, 2012

Patent Troll Files Flurry of Lawsuits Over Widely Used Transit-Arrival Systems

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is challenging a dangerous patent used to wrongfully demand payment from cities and other municipalities that employ public tracking systems to tell transit passengers if their bus or train is on time.

Today, EFF with the help of the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law, filed a request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), urging reexamination of the legitimacy of the ArrivalStar patent – used as a basis for dozens of recent lawsuits against entities like the state of California, the city of Cleveland, and the Illinois Commuter Rail.

ArrivalStar claims its patents are based on an invention from 1999 and argues that many widely used transit-tracking systems – as well as some package-tracking services used by delivery and shipping companies – are infringing. But in the reexamination request filed today, EFF and the Samuelson Clinic show that as far back as 1992, public technical reports described a "Smart Bus system" that used the same methods as those included in the ArrivalStar patent.

"ArrivalStar apparently believes that the broad language of their patents could potentially cover any system that tracks a vehicle or a package and notifies a customer of the status. Even if you could patent something that broad and vague – and we think you can't – you certainly can't patent something that was invented by other people years before," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels. "Yet because of this particularly baseless patent, municipalities across the country are being forced to choose whether they will fight an expensive lawsuit, pay ArrivalStar's settlement demands, or abandon a public service. This is not how the patent system is supposed to work."

Because of the deep and systemic problems in the American patent system, EFF has launched the Defend Innovation project to advocate for reform. EFF is asking the public to sign on to our petition at and to comment on seven recommended proposals we think would make the broken system work better for software.

"The patent office issues bad software patents every day, and those patents are hurting American businesses and consumers and hindering innovation," said Samuels. "It's time to create a blueprint for reform."

For the full reexamination request:

For EFF's Defend Innovation project:


Julie Samuels
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues:
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