Police Can Access Your Phone Location Data Without a Warrant

February 28, 2018


Is it a privacy violation for police to access your phone location data without a warrant? I’d venture to say that most Americans feel this type of search is not proper. There is a case currently pending before the Supreme Court called Carpenter v. United States, which will determine the legality of such a search.


The case involves a number of robberies in Michigan. Police investigating the robberies requested the location data from the defendant’s cell phone company without a warrant, and the cell phone company readily turned that information over.


The government argues that the cell phone company is a “third party” and that location data is a business record that it is allowed to request. The government believes that this location information should be accessible to police without a search warrant because it is not being accessed directly from the defendant’s phone or property.  


If the Supreme Court rules for the government in Carpenter and allows warrantless location data searches, we can expect searches to expand beyond just cell phones. With the advent of autonomous cars, the government would be able to see where your car traveled, when, and how fast, just by submitting paperwork to your car manufacturer. Imagine the speeding tickets you could receive!


I believe this type of intrusion is against the principles set forth in the 4th Amendment to the Constitution which states:


“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


IF the Supreme Court rules for the police in Carpenter, this type of government intrusion can be prevented by enacting laws that forbid the government from accessing location information without a warrant. California has recently enacted the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which imposes a warrant requirement, but other states must follow suit.  


Michael F. Niznik is a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney representing clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We maintain two offices for your convenience – in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (Norristown). We provide free consultations for Pennsylvania and New Jersey criminal and personal injury matter. We can be reached 24/7 at 267-589-0601 or online at www.NiznikLaw.com.


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