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Cell Phones Need A Warrant, But Cell Site Location Info Doesn't? Appellants Challenge Government's Assertions

from the it's-time-to-start-disassembling-the-Third-Party-Doctrine dept

The Supreme Court's recent finding that warrantless cell phone searches are unconstitutional is already generating some pretty interesting arguments in ongoing cases. The government obviously wishes to mitigate the "damage" done by this decision by still doggedly pursuing data through warrantless methods.

In this particular case, the government is arguing that it has every right to access cell site location information (CSLI) without a warrant, claiming that the Riley decision solely pertains to the contents of cell phones. Obtaining CSLI without a warrant is still Constitutionally-dubious, however. One state court and a federal court have held that this information should only be obtained with a warrant. In the prior case, it was found that the state's Constitution provided more protection than the US Constitution and in the latter, the finding was very narrowly tailored to the case at hand, making it very difficult to apply to others cases, even under the same jurisdiction.

While the government makes the usual claims about third party data and warrant requirements being an undue burden, the appellant's reply takes those arguments apart.

The government is quite candid in its brief that it wishes to use cell phone location data to conduct dragnet surveillance without any individualized suspicion, or even a belief that a crime has occurred. It claims that CSLI is a simple building block at the beginning of an investigation that is the equivalent of chatting with bystanders. Riley refused to countenance this warrantless practice when it explained that location data qualifies as one of the “privacies of life” that the Fourth Amendment protects.
The appellant's reply further disassembles the government's assertion that grabbing cell location info is like "chatting with bystanders" in order to help "build an investigation." In one footnote, it asks why the government feels it shouldn't need a warrant for the cell location data when it obviously found a warrant necessary elsewhere, belying its "building an investigation" claim.
Here, this argument is demonstrably false. Appellants had already been arrested and indicted–and multiple search warrants had already been issued–before the government first sought the 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) orders. In fact, some of the warrants were to search the cell phones.
In another, it attacks the ridiculousness of the Third Party Doctrine, which the government claims gives it the "right" to grab records without warrants and, in essence, turns the cell provider into nothing more than an impartial witness/bystander.
Contrary to the government’s assertion, nobody at Sprint witnessed Appellants’ movements, let alone any criminal activity. The government required Sprint to record his movements, using Sprint as the custodian. The technology itself needs only ephemeral and anonymous detection of location. Using this artefact of the technology as a retrospective homing beacon does not transform Sprint into a witness. Without the government’s action, no person would have ever known or seen the Appellants’ every move over the course of seven months.
If there's anything the court should pay particular attention to, it's this footnote. The government has successfully argued for years that so-called "business records" carry no expectation of privacy while hiding the fact that many of these records are maintained to meet government regulations. The government compels the production of records and then claims it should have broad, warrantless access to them because cell phone owners "voluntarily" generated these by using their phones. It ignores the fact that there's no way for customers to opt out of these collections, short of not using a phone. This ties into the Riley decision, in which the Supreme Court noted that having a cell phone isn't some sort of luxury enjoyed by a small percentage of the population but a necessity of modern life.




Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 4:10pm

    Not that tricky

    This really shouldn't be that difficult for the judge to figure out.

    Would attaching a tracking device of some sort, either to someone's vehicle or person, to track them require a warrant? Yes. Given tracking someone via their cellphone is for all intents and purposes identical, it too should require a warrant to be legal.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 4:20pm

    Third party data, is only third party data ,if a third party is paying for that data , Correct ? or am I wrong?.

     

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  3.  
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    AnonCow, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 4:29pm

    Wouldn't warrantless access to CLSI data also imply that any other third-party aggregated data source would also be accessible to police? For example, if an apartment building had a surveillance system, wouldn't that also be available to police without a warrant since it is third-party data?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 4:38pm

    Cell phones are not people...

    I never did understand the notion that if someone's cell phone was in a given area so were they?

    I guess this goes along with the assumption that everyone carries their own personal cell phone.

    My phone is often times in my wife's car (even if she's not driving it) - because i'm not one of those technology-addicted people who has to have his phone with him at all times. In fact, I think my wife has my phone more often than I do.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 5:09pm

    A bit trickier

    Would attaching a tracking device of some sort, either to someone's vehicle or person, to track them require a warrant? Yes. Given tracking someone via their cellphone is for all intents and purposes identical, it too should require a warrant to be legal.

    Not identical. If you discover a tracking device on/in your vehicle or on your person, you can remove it without making the vehicle/person non-operational.

    Unless you're being tracked through your pacemaker, perhaps...

     

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  6.  
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    AnonCow, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 5:30pm

    Couldn't you also make a case for credit card and bank information as "third-party data" if you just used the location of the transaction, not any details about the transaction? For example, Visa provides the names of everyone that conducted a transaction within 100 yards of a crime scene within a two hour window of time.

    I could well imagine the government arguing that since they don't get any actual details of the financial transaction itself, just proximity data (which wouldn't have an expectation of privacy anyway since you were in a store), it doesn't violate any Constitutional protections.

    Slippery little slope you've got there...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 5:50pm

    Re:

    I see no reason why they could not do this now. Heck, maybe they do. How would you know?

     

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  8.  
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    CanadianByChoice (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 6:16pm

    "equivalent of chatting with bystanders"?

    Not quite. A bystander can choose to not tell you anything.

     

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  9.  
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    Bergman (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 9:25pm

    There's another thing you voluntarily choose to generate.

     

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  10.  
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    Bergman (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 9:26pm

    There's another thing you voluntarily choose to generate.

    Specifically, those are the papers and effects protected by the fourth amendment. If voluntarily choosing to create something voids your fourth amendment protections, then nothing is protected.

     

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  11.  
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    Whatever (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 9:34pm

    Re: Not that tricky

    Nowhere near that simple. If the tracking device is installed by law enforcement (say a GPS tracker) then yes, a warrant is needed base on current rulings.

    The phone, however, is something that (a) you willingly and knowingly carry with you, and (b) operates by broadcasting a signal over the public airwaves, and (c) that data is collected by the phone company, generally considered a third party. In fact, that data (at least the most current data) is a requirement to make the cellular network operate. If they don't know where your phone is, it is not easy for them to ring you!

    So compared to a police installed GPS device, there are plenty of differences.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2014 @ 4:19am

    Re: Re: Not that tricky

    The network only needs your current location, and then only to the precision of a single cell - it needs far less information than law enforcement are collecting, and does not need to keep it except as mandated by law.

    Not needing a warrant for your current location based purely on cell tower signal strength would be reasonable (although since you also give the company the list of everyone you call as a matter of technical necessity, the two should be treated the same), but that's rather different to getting the precise GPS location or a log of past locations, neither of which the cell company need or have any legitimate operational reason to store.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2014 @ 4:51am

    Govt + surveill vs Law Enforcement

    Back in the day, people actually liked law enforcement (LE). They were trusted and respected. Thus, when bad stuff happened people would volunteer information which assisted LE in building a case for prosecution. These days society seems much less trusting in LE for very good reason (general abuse of power). So, how does LE get the useful information? Nobody wants to talk to them. Thus, Govt surveillance, which screws the public (general suspicion). Not a nice way to live.

     

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  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 10:34am

    Re: Re:

    I think the safe assumption is that they suck in all data that they can make even a tenuous legal case for, and most of the data that they can't.

     

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  15.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 10:38am

    Re: Govt + surveill vs Law Enforcement

    Yup. I remember those days before the police lost their collective mind.

    Of course, such days never existed for everyone. They pretty much only existed for the middle-class white community for most of 20th century history. As a friend of mine once pointed out (quite correctly) the real difference between now and the "good old days" is that middle class white people are being treated more like poor and minority people have been treated for a very, very long time.

     

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  16.  
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    Anon, Aug 13th, 2014 @ 12:05pm

    >"The government compels the production of records and then claims it should have broad, warrantless access to them because cell phone owners "voluntarily" generated these by using their phones."

    Actually - The government compels the *retention* of records - which is the key problem here.

    It's not much different than the government coming in and demanding to see a hotel's guest registry; except it's as if the government demanded too that the hotel collect official ID's and they keep the registries for a year or more.

    Surely there' a court case already on whether the government needs a warrant to read a hotel registry? But then, AFAIK hotels are not legally mandated to keep reliable accurate information for extended periods.

     

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  17.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 12:32pm

    Re:

    "Surely there' a court case already on whether the government needs a warrant to read a hotel registry? But then, AFAIK hotels are not legally mandated to keep reliable accurate information for extended periods."

    I got curious about this and did some searching. The applicable laws are state laws and so vary according to where we're talking about. However, data retention is included in most of the ones I've seen. Here's Massachusetts' law -- most of the others don't seem too different from this:

    Until the entry of such name and the record of the room has been made, such person shall not be allowed to occupy privately any room upon the licensed premises. Such register shall be retained by the holder of the license for a period of at least one year after the date of the last entry therein, and shall be open to the inspection of the licensing authorities, their agents and the police.

     

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  18.  
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    M. Alan Thomas II (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 8:56pm

    One of the old banking cases that the third-party doctrine is built on held that, because there was a law compelling both mandatory record-keeping and disclosure upon request, you were could not reasonably expect that the contents of the records were or would remain private. In short, if you know that the government is spying on you, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. A cute little bit of circular reasoning that would justify anything if you tried hard enough.

     

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  19.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 8:28am

    Re:

    Exactly. This is my entire problem with the "reasonable expectation of privacy" standard. As a ferinstance, now that we know the NSA is engaged in wholesale spying on us all, there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy.

    A standard that falls as soon as it is violated is a worthless standard.

     

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  20.  
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    KM., May 21st, 2015 @ 8:43am

    The unconstitutionalit of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d)

    In order to prevail on the issue of historical CSLI and its requiring of a warrant to obtain, one must first attack the constitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) which allows the obtaining of historical CSLI with a court order.

    SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) is unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Lustig and Byars that says, 'anytime the government (police, federal agent, etc) uses a private citizen/entity (cellular service provider) as its agent in acquiring evidence against someone
    this evokes the full ponoply of constitutional protections'(ie...a warrant based on probable cause).

    What has officiated all cellular service providers status as "agents for the government" is the "nexus" that was created in or around 2000 when the government's FCC issued a set of rules, called the Enhanced 911 rules (E911 rules), that mandated all wireless carriers to collect precise location information in the near future in order to improve the delivery of emergency services...See "The Mobile Wireless Web, Data,Services and Beyond: Emerging Technologies and Consumer Issues published by the Federal Trade Commission, February 2002.

    When you view this book/pamphlet you will get a unique uncorrupted view of the mindset from a diverse consortium of individuals who we at the forefront of pioneering cellular technology, rules, and safeguards.

    For instance, at the workshop which the aforementioned book is a overview of, there was consensus as to the uncertainty of who CSLI (historical and realtime) belongs to.

    We the People desrves to know who designated CSLI the property of cellular providers when said ownership was clearly uncertain back in 2000.

    We the People deserve to know how, who, when, and where the original intent of the government to collect this information for E911 purposes evolved to criminal investigations.

    We the People deserves to know how the keenest legal minds in the United States allowed legislators to enact SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) knowing full well cellular providers were government 'agents' and thus any information acquired by them at the behest of the government could only be turned over by abiding by the strictest of constitutional protections.

    We the People deserve to know if any legislators who helped to vote SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) into being profited from the 5 to 9 billion dollar a year average the Harris Corporation (HRS) made over years since this unconstitutional enactment. The Harris Corporation is the company that makes and sells the devices that capture CSLI and they have been selling these devices such as the stingray to police departments throughout the U.S. .

    We the people deserve to know if any of these legislators had investments in Harris Corporation, or its subsideraries, or in any one of the investment companies that hold Harris Corp stock and thus profited from the more than $100 billion dollars made to investors as a direct result of their unconstitutional enactment.

     

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  21.  
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    layman101 (profile), May 23rd, 2015 @ 5:42pm

    A WARRANT IS MANDATORY!

    The unconstitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d)...
    Greetings!
    Notwithstanding the fact that there is much good that can come from the legitimate (warrant based on probable cause) acquisition of Cell Site Location Information (stored/historical or real time), as of now, the location of wherever you carry your cell phone is recorded by your cellular service providers. In other words for the last several years every place you've visited or traveled while your cell phone was in your possession, on or off doesn't matter, has been recorded and saved and can be handed over to an investigative body who has obtained a court order under SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).
    A court order is issued under a less stringent standard , a offer of “specific and articulable facts”( instead of the highest level of 4th amendment constitutional protection, a warrant based on probable cause see,( http://www.volokh.com/2011/01/11/2703d-orders-in-the-news-no-really).
    One may postulate, "oh! I'll just get around that by carrying burners (disposable phones)". Yeah, sure, well guess what, we pass through hundreds of cell towers every day. If you have 2, 3, or 4 phones in your car every several seconds they send out signals to cell phone towers and this is how your location is mapped. Your 2,3, or 4 phones are the only phones that would have traveled that same mapped path so by them having your regular phone number they can easily see what phones followed the same cell tower to cell tower path and thus get your burner numbers as well...Wow...Now I understand why crime is down.
    One may rationalize by saying, “they can’t pinpoint my exact location”. That may have been the case as of yesteryear but in today’s ever changing world, because technology increases with our every breath they now have what’s known as a femto cell, (see, http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/data-center/pros-and-cons-of-using-femtocells/) which can pinpoint a cellular phone location up to within a ten meters (i.e. to a particular floor, apt, address, etc.)
    Another thing worthy of mentioning is the fact that local, state and federal police throughout the U.S. has purchased the ultra expensive stingray (cell tower simulator) device …see, (http://www.ibtimes.com/police-departments-18-states-use-stingray-tech-track-cell-phones-they-wont-t alk-about-it-1694552 ). This device tricks a cell phone into thinking they are the cell tower and thus all information that would have been relayed to a cell tower is now relayed to the stingray device. No doubt this information is used to help obtain a court order under SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).
    Once a court order is obtained now law enforcement can get real time and stored/historical CSLI on a person’s regular phone and any additional phones that person may have and thus build a case based on this violation. Under the more stringent standard of a warrant based on probable cause a warrant would have never been issued under these circumstances.
    If you've been cheating on your spouse at a hotel that info is saved, all mapped out, and waiting.
    If you commit a crime at a particular time and you have your cell phone on you...busted.
    If you did a drug deal and had your regular phone on you and a year later the guy gets caught and tells...guess what? You was there...busted.
    If you live an alternative lifestyle (undercover) and you visit those types of establishments ....guess what...there's a record.
    If you just want to be alone, guess what...they have a record of that.
    If the target is mostly "black" criminals and not white collar criminals this would be an abuse of power...
    We the People deserve to know the ratio of black versus white targeted via CSLI/HCSLI, people and crime types.
    Cellular phones and their residual matter (Cell Site Location Information [CSLI], and Historical Cell Site Location Information [HCSLI] ) have the potential to be a great benefit to humanity or a draconian tool to be used for the same purposes as an implanted chip. This is the case because a cellular phone offers the same, if not more, benefits or ill effects (depending on the person’s perception) as an implanted chip (i.e. location tracking, allows a person to buy and sell, etc. (see, http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/computers/item/17688-rfid-implants-the-benefits-vs-the-dangers). Can we really name one pertinent thing that a cellular phone does that an implanted chip couldn’t do?

    This is the way to defeat this violation... (keep in mind, under this approach our current third party doctrine need not be amended on this issue because since cellular service providers are “agents”, because they collect this data at the behest/instigation of the government ( FCC rule E911), the third party doctrine is inapplicable.

    In order to prevail on the issue of historical CSLI and mandate its requiring of a warrant to obtain, one must first attack the constitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) which allows the obtaining of historical/real-time CSLI with a court order.
    SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) is unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Lustig, Byars, and countless succeeding federal and state cases that says, 'anytime the government (police, federal agent, etc) use a private citizen/entity (cellular service provider) as its agent (state actor) in acquiring evidence against someone this invokes the " full ponoply of constitutional protections" (i.e. ...a warrant based on probable cause is needed). This statute also fails both the “public function test” as well as the “lugar test”
    The “public function test” states that a private entity will be considered a state actor if the private entity assumes or is delegated a power “ traditionally exclusively reserved to the State”, see Jackson v Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, at 352 (1964). Collecting evidence for criminal trials has always been the job of the State/Government and its delegated actors/agents.
    When we apply the “two part test” that the “Lugar Test” outlines to this issue we see that it too denotes that cellular service providers are state/federal actors and/or agents respectively.
    The first part of the Lugar Test states that the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the state or by a person for whom the State is responsible.
    The deprivation occurs in the relinquishing of a person’s CSLI/HCSLI by cellular service providers at the behest of the government under the rule of conduct as outlined in rule SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).
    The second part of the Lugar Test states, the party charged with the deprivation must be a person (entity) who may fairly be said to be a state actor. This may be because he is a state official, because he has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials, or because his conduct is chargeable to the State.
    The party charged with the deprivation are the cellular service providers because in essence and in fact they are “agents/actors. What had officiated and cemented all cellular service providers statuses as "agents/actors for the government" is the "nexus" that was created in or around 2000 when the government's FCC issued a set of rules, called the Enhanced 911 rules (E911 rules), that mandated all wireless carriers to collect precise location information in the near future in order to improve the delivery of emergency services...See "The Mobile Wireless Web, Data, Services and Beyond: Emerging Technologies and Consumer Issues, pg. 9… published by the Federal Trade Commission, by Robert Ptofsky February,2002,..see, (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1q7pqeJ0PWGbmJqNVVkVnJSN0h4cHRSQ2hyWnZienR5YlJz/view?usp=sharing) .
    When you view this "staff report" you will get a unique pre-cell era view of this issue from the mindset of a diverse consortium of individuals who we at the forefront of pioneering cellular technology, rules, and safeguards.
    For instance, at the workshop which the aforementioned book pertains to, there was consensus as to the uncertainty of who CSLI (historical and real time) belongs to.
    We the People deserves to know who designated this newly developed, highly sensitive, and clearly outside the traditional boundaries of normal protocol who designated a citizens CSLI the property of cellular providers when all cellular providers were required to collect and retain this information at the behest of the government (see rule E911).
    We the People deserves to know who designated this newly developed, highly sensitive, and clearly outside the traditional boundaries of past protocols, who designated a citizens CSLI the property of cellular providers when said ownership was clearly uncertain back in 2000.
    We the People deserve to know who, how, and when the original intent of the government to collect this newly developed sensitive information that clearly trumps all other technological inventions of our time for E911 purposes transformed into criminal investigations without using the strictest safeguards?
    We the People deserves to know how the keenest legal minds in the United States government allowed legislators to enact SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) unchecked, knowing full well cellular providers were government 'agents' for fourth amendment purposes and thus any information acquired by them at the behest of the government could only be turned over by abiding by the strictest of constitutional protocol with respect to a person's CSLI and HSCLI?
    Notwithstanding the meritorious work and energy sacrificed by our hardworking legislators… We the People deserve to know if any other legislators who helped to vote SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) into being profited from the 5 to 9 billion dollar a year average the Harris Corporation (HRS) made over the years since this unconstitutional enactment, see . The Harris Corporation is the company that makes and sells the devices that capture CSLI and they have been selling these devices to police departments throughout the U.S. .
    We the people deserve to know if any of these legislators had investments in Harris Corporation, or its subsidararies , or in any one of the investment companies that hold Harris Corp stock and thus profited from the more than $100 billion dollars made to investors as a direct result of their unconstitutional enactment.
    The Wise and Honorable Justices have said in Union Pac. R.Co.V.Botsford. 141 U.S. 250,at 251, " No right is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law."...and,
    The Well-balanced Justices of the court has said in Terry v Ohio 392 U.S. 1, at 15 "Under our decision, courts still retain their traditional responsibility to guard against police conduct which is overbearing or harassing, or which trenches upon personal security without the objective evidentiary justification which the Constitution requires. When such conduct is identified, it must be condemned by the judiciary and its fruits must be excluded from evidence in criminal trials"...most notably,
    The Honorable and Well respected Justice Frankfurter has said in Lustig v United States, 338 U.S. 74, at 78-79, "[A] search is a search by a federal agent if he had a hand in it***the decisive factor in determining the applicability of the Byars case is the actuality of a share by a federal official in the total enterprise of securing and selecting evidence by other than sanction means. It is immaterial whether a federal agent originated the idea or joined in it while the search was in progress. So long as he was in it before the object of the search was completely accomplished, he must be deemed to have participated in it."...also;
    The Prestigious Justices of the court have said in Byars v United States, 273 U.S. 28, at 33-34, " The Fourth Amendment was adopted in view of long misuse of power in the matter of searches and seizures both in England and in the colonies; and the assurance against any revival of it, so carefully embodied in the fundamental law, is not to be impaired by judicial sanction of equivocal methods, which, regarded superficially, may be seen to challenge the illegality but which, in reality, strike at the very substance of the constitutional right."
    Lastly, the initial violative action (“fruit of the poisonous tree”, see ) in our judicial system with regards to this issue occurred with the application of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d). A poisonous rule or statute is far, far more damaging and destructive than a single piece of poisonous fruit (evidence gained through illegal or unconstitutional means or methods) for it gives rise to baskets upon baskets of poisonous fruit that will surely poison our nation. So to correct the problem you must attack it at its roots, i.e. the initial violation.
    In closing, our judicial system is not perfect but is a system that can work if we meticulously safeguard all elements of our Constitution. When we sacrifice one mustard seed weight of our constitutional rights for a paltry gain, sinister intent, or for whatever reason the end result can only lead to chaos, nonconformity, and inconsistency in our courts decisions, judicial mindset, along with increased mayhem in society...as we see today with this issue, this, in addition to the countless snowballing detrimental effects from such violation(s).

     

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