News by Michael Oryl on Friday September 12, 2008.
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A federal district court judge in western Pennsylvania yesterday ruled that government agencies must have probable cause of criminal activity before they can be issued a warrant that would force a wireless carrier to turn over historical records showing where a person's cell phone has been used. The Washington Post notes in its story that this is the first time that a federal court has ruled on the issue.
The case involves an alleged drug trafficker and a government request that Sprint turn over the suspect's cell phone call records as well as the location of the towers that the suspect's cell phone was connected to. The government argued that the cell site location information is not inherently accurate enough to require a warrant and is no different from typical credit card and other transactional data that currently requires no warrant for access.
The government claims that the correct standard for requesting such cell site and call information is that it need only prove that the information is relevant to a criminal investigation. Judge Terrence F. McVerry of the Western District of Pennsylvania does not agree.
The U.S. Justice Department's standards dictate that a warrant should only be necessary for precise location tracking, such as that provided by GPS capable devices.
It is expected that the U.S. Attorney's office will appeal Judge McVerry's decision. [via WSJ's Law Blog]