Federal Government Using New Technology to Track People By Their Cell Phones

The United States Constitution, along with the Florida Constitution, protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. There are many cases decided by state and federal courts which elaborate on what is a legal search and seizure by the police and what violates a person’s right to privacy under the Constitution. However, as many legal cases as there are, they do not perfectly cover every situation. This is particularly true where a new technology is developed that gives the government access to people and information that was not possible before.

Somewhat recently, government officials have attempted to track people via GPS in their phones and otherwise. As a result, there have been court decisions in Florida and throughout the United States discussing whether the police need a warrant before they can track someone’s movement by GPS. There is now a new technology called Stingray that allows the government to track cell phone signals inside vehicles, homes and certain buildings. With this technology, the government can use a person’s cell phone data, such as text messages and emails, to determine the exact location of the cell phone. Law enforcement officials are apparently using this technology to track people without first applying for a search warrant and getting permission from a judge. The government’s position is that the technology does not retrieve information on the cell phone, just its location, so a search warrant is not required.

This tracking device, which apparently costs between $60,000 and $175,000, is primarily being used in drug cases (the government does love to spend money on the war on drugs). As of now, we have not seen any legal opinions that have directly addressed this particular Stingray technology. However, as the government makes greater use of it and makes drug and other arrests as a result, the issue of whether the government can track a person by his/her cell phone data without a warrant will likely be the subject of future criminal cases and appeals.

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