SCOTUS rules for privacy when it comes to police searching phone records | KOB 4

SCOTUS rules for privacy when it comes to police searching phone records

Brittany Costello
June 22, 2018 05:21 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to provide more privacy to citizens, ruling 5-4 on Friday that police need to obtain a search warrant before pulling cell phone records to track down individuals.


Phone companies have information on peoples' locations from cell towers that provide service. Before the ruling, police were freely able to obtain that information from cell phone companies.

"We now have a solid majority of five justices who recognize that these devices that we're carrying around in our pockets and in our purses really can be a threat to our privacy," said Tom Goldstein, an attorney-turned-Supreme Court blogger.

The court stopped short of applying the ruling to other technology used in daily life, leaving the door open for authorities to use other digital information sans a warrant. The ruling also allows authorities to search tracking records without a warrant in the case of emergencies.


In some parts of New Mexico, the shorter leash isn't new to some law enforcement. Officials with the Bernalillo County District Attorney's office say they already work with agencies to protect peoples' rights.

For the most part, the DA's office says, it already requires search warrants when it comes to gathering that type of data from cell phones.

In fact, it's become a vital tool for them to pursue suspects or find potential evidence in an investigation.

According to Kyle Hartsock, a special agent with the Bernalillo County DA's Office, law enforcement has two primary ways to get access to phone records: with a subpoena or a search warrant.

Nonetheless, the American Civil Liberties Union said the SCOTUS ruling represents a substantial victory as it pertains to privacy rights.

"Cell phone tracking data is highly sensitive information that can reveal quite a bit about a person's life," said Katie Hoeppner of ACLU New Mexico. "You can find out where a person goes to church, where a person sleeps – that's highly sensitive data that just should not be available for no reason."

Hartsock said prosecutors already review search warrants to determine if the right requirements are met. Additionally, just two weeks ago, prosecutors and law enforcement officials received additional training on the subject.

"They want to make it harder," he said. "We're getting into a private realm of citizens and we need to make sure there's a strict review."

Earlier this year, the ACLU discovered the Albuquerque Police Department was using a secretive cell site simulator for data collection. 

In March APD officials said they were open to working with the organization to better protect rights; the ACLU hopes the ruling provides greater context when developing guidelines for that use as well.





Brittany Costello

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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