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ACLU asks federal appeals court to rehear cell phone tracking case

The American Civil Liberties Union [official website] (ACLU) on Tuesday asked [amicus brief, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] to reconsider a case in which it decided [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] last month that police use of GPS tracking on a person's cell phone is not an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment [text]. The ACLU asserts that this decision "is an unusually important and weighty precedent given its status as the first appellate decision in the nation to apply [United States v. Jones] to GPS tracking via cell phones and severely undercuts the Jones decision by effectively limiting it to its facts." In Jones [opinion, PDF], the US Supreme Court [official website] decided [JURIST report] that attaching a GPS tracking system to a vehicle without a warrant constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. In the Sixth Circuit's case, the police coordinated with a cell phone company to use the defendant's GPS on his phone to track him down before they had obtained a warrant or even shown probable cause. The ACLU said it thinks the Sixth Circuit misapplied Jones to this case and urged it to reconsider its ruling.

Government use of technology to locate and obtain information about people has caused much controversy. In July a member of the US House of Representatives released a report showing an increase in requests by law enforcement [JURIST report] agencies to access cell phone records from major wireless carriers. In March the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a warrantless search of a suspect's cell phone to obtain the suspect's phone number is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Last year a federal court ordered the Department of Justice [official website] to release information [JURIST report] about when it had used cell phone location data to track down suspects in a suit filed by the ACLU.

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