Prosecutors Argue Cell Site Location Data Is Something Every User Shares With 'The Rest Of The World'

from the no-expectation-of-privacy-in-things-we-insist-everyone-knows dept

The state of Maryland's defense of the Baltimore PD's warrantless use of Stingray devices continues, taking the form of a series of motions unofficially titled Things People Should Know About Their Cell Phones.

The last brief it filed in this criminal prosecution claimed "everyone knows" phones generate location data, therefore there's no expectation of privacy in this information. As commenters pointed out, people may know lots of stuff about records they're generating, but that doesn't mean law enforcement should have warrantless access to those records.

Everyone Knows… That my Doctors generate medical data about patients, so how about we get their medical records on public display without warrants!
With no expectation of privacy, there's no need for a warrant. And with no warrant requirement, there's no chance of having evidence tossed. That's a win Maryland needs, considering the Baltimore PD alone has deployed IMSI catchers several thousand times without obtaining warrants. Everything runs through pen register orders, which both lower the burden of proof and (in many cases) obscure the technology actually being used.

Now, it's back with its response to the defendant's motion to dismiss and it's again claiming People Know Stuff, therefore no expectation of privacy. (h/t Brad Heath)

After dismissing the defendant's arguments about police use of location tracking devices as "dystopian fantasies," the state argues it's time for the accused (not just this one, but any others facing prosecutions predicated on warrantless cell phone tracking device usage) to stop pretending they don't know how much data their phones are coughing up.
While cell phones are ubiquitous, they all come with "off" switches. If a cell phone is turned on, it is receiving signals from cell towers, and sending signals back out to cell towers. The cell site simulator used in this case took advantage of that fact in order to locate Andrews's phone. Because Andrews chose to keep his cell phone on, he was voluntarily sharing the location of his cell phone with third parties. Under the doctrine set forth by the Supreme Court in Smith, supra, he cannot claim a Fourth Amendment privacy right in this case.
The "Smith" the state refers to is 1979's Smith v. Maryland, which law enforcement loves to use in cell phone surveillance cases, because:

a) it's incredibly outdated, and
b) it provides a very broad and favorable reading of the Third Party Doctrine as it relates to phone usage.

The state says it's the defendant's own fault he was located. After all, he had a choice. And he chose badly.
Andrews complains that the police "invaded" a "constitutionally protected area," and therefore this search triggered Fourth Amendment protections under United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984) and Kyllo v. United States, 533 US. 27 (2001). But in Karo, the suspect was unaware that he had brought a police transponder into his home, and in Kyllo, the suspect was unable to prevent grow-lights (or his body) from emitting heat. Andrews, by contrast, was quite aware that he was bringing his own cell phone into the house. And he was quite capable of turning it off
The government's argument, while technically solid when used in conjunction with these precedent-setting decisions (Smith's outdated view of phones notwithstanding), but it becomes completely disingenuous when it describes the "sharing" of identifying phone data.
Just as the telephone company in Smith used transmitted phone numbers in a way quite distinct from the way in which the police used them, so, too, Andrews's cell service provider used the ID number broadcast by his cell phone in ways quite distinct from the way in which the police used it. The way in which the information was used does not alter the "expectation of privacy" in the information itself. Smith controls here. Andrews's addition of the adjective "exact" to the noun "location" does not alter that fact. The issue is not whether Andrews was aware that the police could find the location of his cell phone to within 20 yards. The issue is whether Andrews can claim an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in information which he was voluntarily broadcasting to third parties at all times. Under Smith, the answer is no.

There is no Fourth Amendment right to evade a valid arrest warrant. Andrews was wanted on multiple counts of attempted murder. A life "on the lam" may require some inconveniences, such as not staying in one's home, and turning one's cell phone off when not in use. There is no constitutional right to avoid being arrested for one's crimes, and nothing unreasonable about the police using the same information that Andrews was sharing with the rest of the world to apprehend him.
The "rest of the world?" Really? Andrews may have been able to talk his cell phone provider into turning over a copy of all the data his phone had generated, but it's not as though the general public has access to this information, expectation of privacy or no. Just because law enforcement can access this information with warrants or (more likely) pen register orders does not make it information "shared" with "the rest of the world." It is not shared indiscriminately and it's only because cell providers are legally compelled to cooperate with law enforcement (CALEA, etc.) that cops can obtain this information with a pen register order, rather than a warrant.

And, in this case, the information was not obtained with a court order. There may be a court order on record that would give the impression the BPD would approach a telco for phone records, but the actual collection of Andrews' location info was done with a Hailstorm cell tower spoofer. The state claims the request specified the use of a cell tower spoofer but there's no indication the presiding judge had any idea how much information these devices can obtain. A pen register order refers to a targeted phone number. A cell tower simulator gathers information from everyone in the area.

This isn't just a fight over this particular prosecution. This is the state safeguarding its thousands of Stingray deployments. If it's going to be able to keep those prosecutions from falling apart -- now that the BPD's devices are an open secret -- it needs the court to agree there's no expectation of privacy in cell phone location data. And in order to do that, it apparently needs the court to believe everyone using a cell phone is sharing all sorts of information with "the rest of the world."

Filed Under: 4th amendment, baltimore, expectation of privacy, location, location data, maryland, privacy, third party doctrine


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  1. identicon
    DigDug, 5 Feb 2016 @ 2:32pm

    Not all phones have "off" switches...

    Apple products do not actually power off, as was found by travelers who had to pay thousands in roaming fees after taking their iCrap products on their cruise ships.

    If I turn off "locations" services on my phone, ie - E911 only, I certainly expect my location to be private.

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