A federal appeals court said that government authorities could extract historical location data directly from telecommunications carriers without a search warrant, The New York Times reports.
The case is the first ruling that squarely addresses the constitutionality of warrantless searches of historical location data stored by cellphone service providers, the article says. The court ruled that a warrantless search was “not per se unconstitutional” because location data was “clearly a business record” and therefore not protected by the Fourth Amendment.
However, this ruling sharply contrasts with a New Jersey State Supreme Court opinion in mid-July that said the police required a warrant to track a suspect’s whereabouts in real time. The New Jersey ruling relied on that state’s constitution, however, compared with Tuesday’s ruling, which was made on the basis of the federal Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the matter, but for now, The New York Times reports, the ruling sets an important precedent by allowing law enforcement officials in the Fifth Circuit to chronicle the location of an American with a court order that falls short of a search warrant based on probable cause.