Are Geofence Warrants That Track Cell Phone Data Unconstitutional?

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Hartford, CT criminal lawyer for illegal search and seizureWhile modern technology has improved people’s lives in many ways, it has also created concerns about privacy. Most people carry cell phones or other electronic devices with them everywhere they go, and the use of apps that track their location can leave a data trail that provides a great deal of information about their activities and behavior. In some cases, this data may be accessed by law enforcement officials who are looking to identify criminal suspects. Recently, the use of “geofence warrants” has come under scrutiny, and criminal defense attorneys and privacy advocates are fighting back against the improper collection of data during criminal investigations.

What Are Geofence Warrants?

“Geofencing” refers to drawing a boundary around a certain geographic area and identifying people within that area who have used electronic devices. When people use apps such as Google Maps, their location history is saved, and this data may be used to identify them at a later date. 

Over the past several years, law enforcement officials have begun issuing warrants to obtain location data for people who were in a certain area at the time that criminal activity allegedly occurred. Google has reported that warrants for this type of data increased by 1,500% between 2017 and 2018 and by another 500% between 2018 and 2019. As of the end of 2109, the company was receiving as many as 180 law-enforcement-related requests for information each week.

One of the primary concerns about geofence warrants is that they are overly broad and intrusive, since they involve the collection of information from innocent people who are not suspected of a crime. This type of warrant will usually request anonymized data about people within a certain area at a certain time, and after narrowing down potential suspects, law enforcement officials may request additional information, such as email addresses, phone numbers, and online account data. The data being collected and reviewed will likely include information about multiple innocent people alongside any criminal suspects.

Unlike traditional search warrants, which are used to obtain information about a person that law enforcement officials have probable cause to believe committed a crime, geofence warrants are usually used to identify potential suspects. Privacy advocates have argued that this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. While some judges have rejected geofence warrants on the grounds that they would be an unnecessary intrusion into the personal information of innocent people, other warrants have been authorized in situations where they were determined to be sufficiently limited in the times and locations being searched.

Contact Our Hartford Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, the attorneys at the Woolf Law Firm, LLC can review the evidence against you and help you determine your best strategy for defense. We will identify any concerns that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, and we will work to suppress any evidence that was obtained illegally. To learn more about how we can help with your case, contact our Connecticut criminal defense attorneys at 860-290-8690 to arrange a free consultation.

Sources:

https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/law-enforcement-is-using-location-tracking-on-mobile-devices-to-identify-suspects-geofence?

https://themarkup.org/ask-the-markup/2020/09/01/geofence-police-warrents-smartphone-location-data

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