Court: No warrant needed to track phone

Aug. 15, 2012 at 6:39 PM
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CINCINNATI, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- A U.S. appellate court has ruled police can track a suspect's location through his cellphone without first obtaining a warrant.

Criminals cannot "complain" when police use a feature on the suspect's own device to catch them, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

It ruled law enforcement officials were within their legal right to track Melvin Skinner, an alleged drug trafficker, through the global positioning system feature on his cellphone before his arrest in 2006, CNET reported Wednesday.

Skinner appealed his subsequent conviction, arguing it violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

"The drug runners in this case used pay-as-you-go (and thus presumably more difficult to trace) cellphones to communicate during the cross-country shipment of drugs," Judge John M. Rogers wrote in his opinion.

"Unfortunately for the drug runners, the phones were trackable in a way they may not have suspected. The Constitution, however, does not protect their erroneous expectations regarding the undetectability of their modern tools."

"When criminals use modern technological devices to carry out criminal acts and to reduce the possibility of detection, they can hardly complain when the police take advantage of the inherent characteristics of those very devices to catch them," Rogers wrote.

"This is not a case in which the government secretly placed a tracking device in someone's car," he wrote, referring to a ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court that said law enforcement agencies must obtain a warrant in order to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle.

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