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Focus: cops,cellphones, warrants and other considerations

Calling it "a resounding defense" of citizens' privacy rights, the American Civil Liberties Union is lauding one state's judicial ruling mandating that police officers obtain a warrant in advance of tracking a person through his or her cellphone.

A recent media article discussing the case states that it is the first ever in which "a state court has reached this finding under the Fourth Amendment."

The tribunal in question is the Florida Supreme Court, and its ruling -- which focused on data retrieved by police from a cell tower without a warrant -- equated tracking an individual through phone location data to a constitutional search under the Fourth Amendment.

And that requires a warrant, except in limited circumstances.

Privacy rights advocates say that the ruling is a seminal state court pronouncement, and they voice hopes that it will gain traction across the country and be followed by the rulings of courts in other states.

The case also brings to the fore police departments' use of so-called "stingrays" without a warrant, which the above-cited article says is also covered by the court's ruling.

It is likely that not many people in Arkansas and nationally have much insight into what a stingray is or how this investigative tool is used by law enforcement bodies. A stingray is a piece of highly sophisticated equipment that police can store in a vehicle and use to simulate a cellphone tower as they are on the move. Cellphones unwittingly connect to the stingray rather than to a tower, and police can thereafter track an individual through phone monitoring.

It is easy to see how invasive such an enforcement tool can be, as well as how it can be abused by police agencies operating in the absence of a warrant.

Issues surrounding probable cause, searches and seizures and warrant requirements are often of critical importance in a criminal case. Any person having questions or concerns regarding such matters can obtain accurate information and diligent legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: Wired, "Cops need a warrant to grab your cell tower data, Florida court rules," Kim Zetter, Oct. 17, 2014

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