Friday, September 21, 2012

New High Tech and the 4th Amend. decision

Fourth Amendment law is in its relative infancy when it come to high-tech matters.  This summary is  from FLETC., (a good source for anyone interested in law and policing).  While this decision, although it seems sensible, could always be overruled, it is at least a starting point.

"U.S. v. Skinner, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 16920, August 14, 2012
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents suspected that Skinner was driving cross-country in a motorhome with a load of marijuana. The agents obtained a court order that authorized the phone company to release subscriber information, cell site information, GPS real-time location and “ping” data for a pay-as-you-go cell phone owned by Skinner. By continuously “pinging” his phone, the agents learned that Skinner had stopped somewhere near Abilene, Texas where they eventually found his motorhome parked at a truck stop. After Skinner denied the agents request to search the vehicle, an officer walked his drug-dog around the perimeter of the motorhome. The dog alerted to the presence of narcotics and the agents searched the motorhome where they discovered over 1,100 pounds of marijuana.
Skinner argued that the use of the GPS location information emitted from his cell phone was a warrantless search that violated the Fourth Amendment.

The court held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cell phone as he traveled on public roadways. If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, the police may track the signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. In addition, although not necessary to a finding that there was no Fourth Amendment violation, the government’s case was strengthened by the fact that the agents sought court orders to obtain information on Skinner’s location because of the GPS capabilities of his cell phone.
Click HERE for the court’s opinion."

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