The New Stuff

Cellphone Records Ruled Off-Limits Without Probable Cause


Chalk one up in the win column for the good guys in the ongoing war to protect individual privacy rights in the digital age. Police officers will no longer have the authority to access cellphone location records as a result of a court order handed down just last week by U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes.

Despite arguments made by law enforcement testifying to the value of access to these records in the fight against crime, nevertheless, the court has deemed such tactics a violation of the Fourth Amendment and therefore illegal.

The landmark decision is not the first of its kind nor will it be the last as the American judicial system undergoes it's inevitable overhaul. Inevitable because so many of the laws on the books are too far outdated to account for the impact of the staggering amount of emergent technology introduced into society over the past few decades.

This particular ruling establishes that the probable cause minimum requirement for access to an individual's private records must now include cellphone location records. The decision upheld a lower-court ruling in the Texas district courts that access to such records without probable cause is unconstitutional.

In an effort to influence the ruling, long time civil rights defender, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) along with its allies, came out in strong support of the court's final decision. The organization responded to the court order in an open letter published in the “Blog of Rights” section of their website, heavily praising the court's decision.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between using technology and keeping control of our private information. The ACLU is strongly committed to ensuring that as technology advances, our civil liberties are not left behind.”

Truer words have never been spoken. However, it might be more accurately stated by saying that one should not be asked to sacrifice their fundamental right to privacy as a prerequisite for survival. The word “choose” implies an option which, it could be argued, much of the public no longer possesses. For many, participation in the digital communications revolution has become a bare necessity both within and outside of the workplace.

And while it appears as though the fight to protect cellphone location records may have been won, it amounts to no more than one battle among many more to come. The greater war to protect individual privacy rights in the digital age promises to wage on long into the future.

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