August 24, 2015 Top Story

Cell Phone Location Records Not Protected by Fourth Amendment

Defendant has no privacy right over cell phone records that do not reveal communications

Daniel P. Elms

Prosecutors’ discovery and use of cell phone records showing the location of cell towers that routed a defendant’s calls was not a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in United States v. Davis. A cell phone user does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over a cell service carrier’s records that do not reveal content of any communications, the opinion held, even if the records place a defendant’s cell phone near a crime scene. This decision conflicts with other recent cases that recognize cell phone metadata privacy more broadly.

Cell Phone Location Data Aids in Conviction

The defendant, Quartavious Davis, was arrested and charged with committing seven armed robberies within approximately two months. The state obtained a court order under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) directing MetroPCS, Davis’s cell phone carrier, to produce Davis’s cell phone records for 67 days, which covered the period when the crimes were committed. The SCA did not require the state to show probable cause or procure a warrant for production of those records.

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