Cell Tracking

Can the government use your cell phone records to track your physical location without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause? Often with EFF input as a friend of the court, the vast majority of judges issuing public opinions on the matter are saying “no”, and rejecting government applications for cell site location tracking information made without showing sufficient need for this kind of sensitive information.

This issue came to light in August 2005, when the first judge to publish a decision on the issue—Magistrate Judge Orenstein in the Eastern District of New York—publicly denied a government request that lacked proof of probable cause. In doing so, Judge Orenstein revealed that the Justice Department had routinely been using a baseless legal argument to get secret authorizations from a number of courts, probably for many years. Many more public denials followed from other judges, sharply rebuking the government and characterizing its legal argument as as "contrived," "unsupported," "misleading," "perverse," and even a "Hail Mary" play. But the government continues to rely on the same argument in front of other judges, most often in secret and sometimes successfully.

EFF has been asked to serve as a friend of the court in several of these applications, successfully showing judges how and why the government's arguments are baseless. EFF will continue to serve as a resource to courts and to counsel, to protect your privacy interest in your physical location, to stop the government from turning the cellular phone system into a vast network for warrantless physical surveillance and to ensure that Big Brother stays out of your pocket.

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