US Court Rules That Phone Location Data is Not Protected by Privacy Laws
Published on: 31st Jul 2013
By: Ian Mansfield
A US court has ruled that mobile networks can be asked to hand over a specific mobile phone's location data to police officials using a less stringent court warrant than they would otherwise have needed.
The dispute stemmed from a complaint that the cell phone networks were handing over location based data collected as part of their normal call records data collection upon receipt of a comparatively easy-to-obtain order under section 2703 (d) of the Stored Communications Act, which is based on a showing of "specific and articulable facts,".
The court had been asked to rule that the police should instead be required to gain a harder to secure search warrant after showing probable cause.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that as people are not forced to own or use a mobile phone, and that there is an expectation that the networks would retain location data of where calls are made... then they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in how this data is used.
Opponents had tried to argue that location data is highly sensitive and should be protected. The Fifth Circuit did not accept this argument. It concludes that because historical cell phone location records are the business records of cell phone companies, individuals can have no reasonable expectation of privacy in them.
The court also said that opponents of the police use of location data in this manner should have approached politicians to change the law, not the courts.