The EFF has published a ruling by Federal District Court Judge Lucy Koh that affirmatively and clearly blocks the collection of cell site location information (so-called “CSLI”) by the Federal government without a warrant. Koh also concluded that a warrant to collect such information can only be granted if the information provided by the target to the cell company was voluntary. And, importantly, she finds the automatic collection of such information by the telecommunications providers does constitute a voluntary transfer of data.
A potentially big ruling came out of the courtroom of Judge Lucy Koh yesterday, in which she affirmed a magistrate judge’s decision to tell the government to get a warrant if it wants to obtain historical location info about certain “target” mobile phones (officially known as “Cell Site Location Info” — or CSLI). The government sought to use a provision of the Stored Communications Act (a part of ECPA, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act) to demand this info without a warrant — using a much lower standard: “specific and articulable facts” rather than the all important “probable cause.” Judge Koh says that’s doesn’t pass 4th Amendment muster, relying heavily on the important Supreme Court rulings in the Jones case, involving attaching a GPS device to a car, and the Riley case about searching mobile phones.
Based on the preceding U.S. Supreme Court cases, the following principles are manifest: (1) an individual’s expectation of privacy is at its pinnacle when government surveillance intrudes on the home; (2) long-term electronic surveillance by the government implicates an individual’s expectation of privacy; and (3) location data generated by cell phones, which are ubiquitous in this day and age, can reveal a wealth of private information about an individual. Applying those principles to the information sought here by the government, the Court finds that individuals have an expectation of privacy in the historical CSLI associated with their cell phones, and that such an expectation is one that society is willing to recognize as reasonable.
This is very big news and it fully supports Fourth Amendment rights under the constitution. Of course, it is a District Court opinion, but it is a strong and well-analyzed result.