Blogs » On the Docket » Cell phone tracking a legal grey area


Your grandparents' heads are the only ones left spinning by new technology. The law sometimes has to play catch up too. This appears to be one such case ...

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled last week police were allowed to track accused drug trafficker Melvin Skinner via his cell phone without a warrant before his arrest in 2006, CNET is reporting.

Skinner said it violated his Fourth Amendment right, which guards citizens against unlawful searchs, but judges argued it wasn't their fault he forgot GPS came with the phone.

This comes after the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision police have a warrant in hand before sticking a GPS tracker on a suspect's vehicle.

Image Photo courtesy of GoodNCrazy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was founded in 1990 to protect "freedoms in the networked world" that "come under attack," had this advice:

"Unfortunately, if you want to use your cell phone at all, avoiding the threat of this kind of real-time tracking is nearly impossible. That's because the government can track your cell phone whenever it's on, even if you aren't making a call. The government can even track some cell phones when they are powered down, unless you have also removed the battery. So, once again, there is a security trade-off: the only way to eliminate the risk of location tracking is to leave the cell phone at home, or remove the battery."

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Maybe I'm niave or maybe I've watched one too many episodes of Law and Order, but I've always assumed police were allowed track cell phones in a missing persons' case, especially when it's a missing child. I mean, why wouldn't they? I didn't think until now about how it could be used to catch criminals (or people innocent until proven guilty).

Does this set a dangerous precedent or does the law need to be tweaked now that one third of all smartphone users can't fathom leaving the devices at home?