Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Federal Judge Says Real-Time Cell Location Info -- Whether Obtained With A Stingray Or Not -- Requires The Use Of A Warrant

An interesting decision by a federal judge in Florida suggests this district, at least, may not be amenable to the warrantless use of Stingray devices… or any other method that harvests cell site location data in real time.

Although the defendants lost their motions to suppress due to a lack of standing, the judge had this to say about the acquisition of cell site location info in this case. (via FourthAmendment.com)

Here, I agree with the Defendants that law enforcement's seizure of precise realtime location information by surreptitiously monitoring signals from the cell phones in this manner is a search subject to the proscriptions of the Fourth Amendment. Such is the express conclusion of the Florida Supreme Court and the conclusion suggested by the Supreme Court. See Tracey v. Florida, 152 So.3d 504 (Fla. 2014); United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012). As such, law enforcement should have obtained a search warrant issued upon probable cause. The Government concedes that the practice in this Court requires a warrant based upon probable cause for such searches and that the these pen/trap applications did not establish probable cause.

Originally, the defense claimed police used a Stingray to track five burner phones used by the defendants. This seemed to be the most logical conclusion, considering how closely and immediately the location data was acquired. But the government responded that no cell site simulators were used to track the devices. Instead, another tool that has long been available to law enforcement was deployed -- a tool created explicitly for law enforcement use by the cell provider.


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