The latest blow to your privacy comes courtesy of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court ruled that investigators do not need a search warrant to obtain cellphone tower location records in criminal prosecutions.
The ruling overturned a three-judge panel of the same court by concluding that authorities properly got 67 days’ worth of records from MetroPCS for Miami robbery suspect Quartavious Davis using a regular court order rather than a proper warrant.
In a 9-2 decision, the 11th Circuit troublingly decided Davis had no expectation of privacy regarding historical records establishing his location near certain cellphone towers. The records were key evidence used to convict Davis of a string of armed robberies, leading to a 162-year prison sentence.
Circuit Judge Frank M. Hull who wrote for the majority thinks it’s clear that cellphone users in today’s society understand how companies collect data about calls and that cell towers are a key part of that.
“We find no reason to conclude that cellphone users lack facts about the functions of cell towers or about telephone providers’ recording cell tower usage,” Hull wrote. “This cell tower method of call connecting does not require a different constitutional result just because the telephone company has decided to automate wirelessly.”
Two of the more tech-savvy judges dissented, contending the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause and a search warrant for such records and some judges in the majority agreed in separate opinions that the U.S. Supreme Court should make the ultimate decision. Davis’ attorney David O. Markus said the dissent could provide a “roadmap” for a likely appeal to the high court.
“Unfortunately, the majority is stuck in the early `80s when cell-phones were the size of bricks and cost $3,000. The cases from that long-ago era aren’t helpful in today’s world,” Markus said.
Markus called the decision “breathtaking,” contending it could mean government investigators could have access without a search warrant to all kinds of personal data stored by a third party such as Facebook posts, purchases on Amazon and even pictures in “cloud” storage.
The ruling is troubling because it assumes everyday Americans understand both what is collected and how it is then used. Yet this is understood by only a few technical professionals.
Sophisticated algorithms are used to take seemingly unrelated small pieces of information and distill them into a frighteningly detailed history of everything you do, eat, see and write. By collecting small pieces of information large corporations, the government and law enforcement now track and trace every American citizen in near real-time.
It’s clear our judges, who are some of the most technically illiterate members of society, don’t understand this. It’s clear they don’t understand the implications of their decisions that rely on literal interpretations of the law.
These rulings, made by men who don’t get it, will now haunt Americans for generations.