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    Op-Ed at New York Times: When GPS Tracking Violates Privacy Rights

    The New York Times has an opinion-editorial about global positioning system (GPS) technology and how its use can affect individuals’ privacy rights and focuses on a recent case, U.S. v. Skinner, 09-6497, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (court pdf).

    For the right to personal privacy to survive in America in this digital age, courts must be meticulous in applying longstanding privacy protections to new technology. This did not happen in an unfortunate ruling last month by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

    The case concerned a drug conviction based on information about the defendant’s location that the government acquired from a cellphone he carried on a three-day road trip in a motor home. The data, apparently obtained with a phone company’s help, led to a warrantless search of the motor home and the seizure of incriminating evidence.

    The majority opinion held that there was no constitutional violation of the defendant’s rights because he “did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cellphone.” […]

    The circuit court panel majority concluded that because the defendant’s phone emitted information that could be picked up by law enforcement agents, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy and thus no warrant was needed to conduct the surveillance. […]

    Carrying a cellphone should not obliterate privacy rights or the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The full Sixth Circuit should grant a pending request for a rehearing and reverse the panel’s damaging ruling.

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