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Appeals Court: Warrantless Cellphone GPS Tracking Legal

August 16, 2012  | 

CC_Flikr: Dan_H
CC_Flikr: Dan_H

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that law enforcement officers don't need a warrant to track the location of a subject via the GPS data from a cell phone.

The Tuesday ruling came in the case United States v. Skinner in which Melvin Skinner was tracked between Arizona and Tennessee by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Skinner and his son were arrested at a rest stop near Abilene, Texas, with a motor home filled with over 1,100 pounds of marijuana.

Circuit Judge John M. Rogers said the tracking was legal and in his majority opinion compared it to more traditional tracking methods. The agents didn't attach a tracking device to the vehicle.

"Dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent," Rogers wrote. "A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen. The recent nature of cell phone location technology does not change this."


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