Following the sentencing of a man for a number of robberies a federal appeals court has ruled that police can access your phone records if they so wish and without permission. The phone records obtained by prosecution from his carrier placed him at various crime scenes.

The court directed that mobile phone users can not expect privacy within business records that identify cell phone tower locations. This reverses a prior ruling seen by privacy advocates as a victory. The ruling around the phone records concerned the ‘tactics of law enforcement’.

Phone records were obtained from MetroPCS (provider) covering a 3 month period in 2010. The man was convicted on all counts and received 162 years imprisonment. Defense promptly filed an appeal. It was deemed by the 11th circuit that, indeed, the man’s Fourth Amendment Rights had been violated. No warrant had been obtained for the phone records.

In respect of the acquisition of historic mobile phone records via cell tower locations by court order was not seen as unconstitutional. Americans give up “any privacy interest” irrevocably once data is freely surrendered to third parties. The convicted could not have any expectations of privacy regarding the phone records.

Conversely the court put forward that the phone records prosecutors used to convict were acquired lawfully i.e. pursuant to the SCA (Stored Communications Act). Allowing authorities and law enforcement to ask or business records from 3rd parties. In this case that phone records were “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

MetroPCS created these business records and regardless as to how the convicted viewed the phone records they remained out of his control. The court ruled that the convicted could not assert possession or ownership of the records he tried to suppress.

How the phone records data was collected may well be the catalyst towards The Supreme Court. There remains educated arguments for change to prevailing and underlying law.

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