Bay Area

Warrantless Tracking of Cell Phones Before Appeals Court

The San Francsico-based Electronic Frontier Foundation is sparring with the Justice Department over whether police can track the location of mobile phones without a warrant. The narrow question before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could impact privacy across mobile and digital media.

The Justice Department, which lost in lower courts, argued in New Orleans Tuesday that T-Mobile and Metro PCS are obligated to disclose when a specified customers is connected to cell phone towers. It's a business record, not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Hanni Fakhoury with the Electronic Frontier Foundation countered that the government is trying to conduct invasive searches without any warrant or probable cause. "We're talking about the silent, invisible disclosure of your location simply because you have your cell phone in your pocket or purse and it has a signal," Fakhoury said.

Governor Jerry Brown just vetoed a bill that, he said, went too far in restraining warrantless tracking of mobile locations. Meanwhile technology and social media companies have asked lawmakers to clarify the rules.

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