The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently issued a report that exposed how police departments, nationwide, are involved in warrantless cell phone tracking. According to the ACLU, local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have been using cell phone location data, obtained without a warrant, to track suspects or individuals involved in police investigations. Local law enforcement agencies in Nevada include the Reno Police Department, Washoe County Sheriff Department, City of Henderson Police Department, Las Vegas Metro Police Department, and the North Las Vegas Police Department. To date, the ACLU has filed over 380 requests in 31 states and Washington, D.C. to determine how expansive and detailed the tracking has been and is.
The ACLU report points out that wireless providers have used signals off of cell phone towers to determine where suspects were located. Nevada police agencies then paid the wireless providers for this cell phone data to locate and build evidence against suspects.
Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a warrant is not needed to gather cell phone tracking data. United States v. Skinner. However, earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police had to obtain a warrant to put a global positioning system (GPS) tracker on a car because such a placement constituted a search which required probable cause. U.S. v. Jones. Like GPS tracking, cell phone tracking provides an individual’s location. The individual does not have to consent for the tracking to work. Unlike a GPS tracker, however, a cell phone tracker does not require a device to be physically attached to the cell phone in order to get the location information. While Jones addressed the actual placing of a tracker, it did not address whether the act of tracking was a search which required a warrant.
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