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Cell phone location data at center of Supreme Court case

Every day in illinoiss, cell phone towers track the whereabouts of users as they go about their daily travels. Wireless providers store this location data, and the Supreme Court of the United States has begun to hear oral arguments about how police can access that information. An attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union argued before the justices that law enforcement should not have been able to access the location data used to convict a man of theft without first getting a search warrant.

The police investigating the alleged ringleader of a gang of thieves acquired the man's location data through a court order sanctioned by the Stored Communications Act. This route represented an easier course than obtaining a search warrant. The attorney challenging the evidence explained that investigators pursued the cell phone data in an attempt to connect the man to criminal activity. He said that action effectively gave the government the ability "to press rewind" on people's lives.

The prosecution has noted that the Supreme Court has already established that people lose their Fourth Amendment right to privacy upon giving their information to a third party, like a wireless provider. A Fourth Amendment scholar likened the seizure of cell location data to observing someone in a public place.

The methods used by authorities to collect evidence against an alleged criminal sometimes come into question when a defendant has legal representation. An attorney knowledgeable about criminal law could challenge any activities that violated a person's rights, including an unlawful search and seizure. This strategy might convince a prosecutor to reduce or drop charges. A person might also gain advice about whether to accept a plea bargain or pursue acquittal at a trial.

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