Warrantless Stingray Unconstitutional – Ho-Hum

Tracking phones without a warrant ruled unconstitutional by Lisa Vaas.

From the post:

A Washington DC Court of Appeals said on Thursday that law enforcement’s warrantless use of stingrays—suitcase-sized cell site simulators that mimic a cell tower and that trick nearby phones into connecting and giving up their identifying information and location—violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search.

The ruling (PDF) overturned the conviction of a robbery and sexual assault suspect. In its decision, the DC Court of Appeals determined the use of the cell-site simulator “to locate a person through his or her cellphone invades the person’s actual, legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her location information and is a search.”

Civil libertarians will be celebrating this decision! But the requirements of Jones vs. US are:

  1. You MUST commit a crime.
  2. You MUST be arrested for the crime in #1.
  3. You MUST be prosecuted for the crime in #1.
  4. The prosecutor MUST rely evidence from use of a warrentless stingray.
  5. The evidence in #4 MUST be crucial to proving your guilt, otherwise you are convicted on other evidence.

If any of those five requirements are missing, you don’t profit from Jones vs. US.

The exclusionary rule, the rule that excludes unconstitutionally obtained evidence sounds great, but unless you meet all its requirements, you are SOL.

For example, what if your phone and the phones of other protesters are subject to warrantless surveillance at a pro-environment rally? Or at a classic political rally? Or at a music concert? The government is just gathering data on who attended.

The exclusionary rule doesn’t do anything for you in those cases. Your identity has been unlawfully obtained, unconstitutionally as constitutional lawyers are fond of saying, but there no relief for you in Jones vs. US.

Glad the DC Circuit took that position but it has little bearing on your privacy in the streets of the United States.

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