On July 30, 2013, a dividing U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that authorities do not need a warrant to obtain records detailing a cellphone location. The Court conducted a full evaluation of the Fourth Amendment rights in these circumstances. The authorities will have to obtain a court order as opposed to a warrant; a court order is easier to acquire. A judge ruled that court orders for cell site location data under the Stored Communications Act are not unconstitutional. Authorities do not have to establish probable cause when trying to obtain the phone records for certain individuals.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the people’s rights “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”. When dealing with information on the Internet or in this case a cell site, the Fourth Amendment protections are potentially far weaker. This is because the Fourth Amendment defines “the right to be secure” in spatial terms that do not directly apply to the “reasonable expectation of privacy” in an online context. There is not a clear consensus over expectations of privacy in an online context. This poses as a huge problem when dealing with security, because there is a huge amount of data on the Internet in today’s world. The amount of useful information that authorities could potentially acquire on the Internet is baffling and they don’t need a search warrant. The government can now see all the phone calls an individual’s makes and the date and time of the phone call with just a court order, but has to obtain a search warrant to have to search your home. In this day and age, searching someone’s phone could be more intrusive than searching someone’s home.
This case marked a major win for the U.S. Justice Department, which fought to salvage the ability of federal agents to obtain cell site location data via a court order, instead of a warrant, which is under the probable-cause standard. The Government does not need probable cause to search an individual’s phone record. In a day and age when so much information can be found from phone records, it is a scary thought that the Government can now obtain phone records without probable cause for any wrongdoing. There needs to be changes made to the Stored Communications Act, making it more difficult to obtain phone records and Internet information.