What No One Is Telling You About The Recent SCOTUS Ruling On Cell Phone Location Information

By Johanna Faust – “ah, Mephistophelis.”

Recently the Supreme Court ruled that to access to the vast amount of information, logged by your cellphone many times per minute on exactly where you have been and for how long, that the cellphone provider keeps for five years, a warrant is required. Fantastic. Obvious, right? Well, no, and more importantly, as a privacy “win,” understanding the new ruling is counterintuitive.

Reports on the ruling barely mention certain things as they rush to soothe an American public justifiably edgy after all the post-Snowden lies. Such as:

  • it does NOT apply to real-time location data – so patterns can be reassembled after new tracking
  • it does NOT apply to data collected by the private sector – so data can be bought or traded
  • it does NOT apply to investigations related to national security – and remember, most invocations of the Patriot Act involved drugs, not terrorism

Private entities regularly share their data with the government, without a warrant, and even if they didn’t, a trivial amount of real-time location tracking will reestablish the behavioral patterns of most individuals with alarming accuracy. Enough to discover most if not all of their important social affiliations.

Include the call metadata, and you have nearly all of it; track their friends for a week, and, without a warrant, but with the info already available, I am sure the degree to which their privacy has been infringed upon exceeds that with which the Founding fathers felt comfortable.

All of which does not take into account the data already collected by those in the public sector, or the data collected by private entities, or other branches of the government. The NSA, for example, shares its vast trove with ICE and the CIA, DEA and FBI via the INTELINK service.

For more detailed analysis, information, and links to sources, please visit No Warrant, No Problem: New SCOTUS Ruling Does Not Apply To Real Time Location Tracking.

Top image credit: “Protection For A Price,” by a female faust, graphic by Brandon Bailey Design

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