A divided federal appeals court ruled today that the government does not need a probable-cause warrant to access mobile-phone subscribers’ cell-site information, a decision reversing lower court decisions that said the location data was protected by the Fourth Amendment. The 2-1 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the third federal appeals court to decide the privacy issue. Adding to the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court might take up the topic, New Jersey’s high court two weeks ago ruled that warrants were required for the location data. All the while, two federal appellate courts have now taken the government’s position that court warrants are not required for the location data. And a third federal appellate court said judges had the option to demand warrants. All of which means some suspects are being convicted based on locational data of what towers their cellphones are pinging, and others are not, because some courts are requiring warrants.
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