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Government Argues: If Your Mobile Phone Provider Knows Where You Are, Why Shouldn’t We?

In one of the stronger defenses of Fourth Amendment rights in the digital age, a federal appellate court panel in August ruled 2 to 1 that law enforcement officials can’t request cell phone location records without a warrant.

The government is now asking the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule the panel’s earlier decision, arguing that by choosing to connect to a mobile network, users lose any reasonable expectation that their location is private.

Quoting the dissenting judge, the government wrote that the panel’s decision “flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s well-established third-party doctrine.”

The third-party doctrine is a legal theory that asserts that users voluntarily give up information like location data by subscribing to public services like communications providers, and thus have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” when it comes to that information.


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