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Should Cops Have Power to Track You in Real Time Through Cell Phones? Court Will Decide.

| October 7, 2013

It's watching you: the tower on U.S. 1 in Palm Coast. (c FlaglerLive)

It’s watching you: the tower on U.S. 1 in Palm Coast. (c FlaglerLive)

Grappling with privacy rights amid fast-changing technology, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a challenge to police using “real-time” cell-phone information to track a suspect in a drug case.

Justices pointed to courts across the country trying to sort out how far police can go in using technology that adds to old-school techniques such as wiretaps.

“Everyone’s struggling — including us,” Justice Barbara Pariente said during an exchange with one of the attorneys in Monday’s case. “Everyone’s struggling.”

The case stems from the 2007 arrest in Broward County of Shawn Tracey, who was later found guilty on cocaine-possession and other charges, including fleeing and eluding police. In lower courts, Tracey’s attorneys argued unsuccessfully that evidence should be suppressed because of law officers using cell-phone technology to track his movements across the state.

Broward County detectives received a warrant to obtain information about Tracey’s cell-phone usage, including “historical cell site” information that would help show the locations of his calls. But a key question in the case is whether that allowed police to conduct what is described as “real time” tracking of Tracey in a red GMC Envoy — eventually leading to a search that discovered a kilogram brick of cocaine underneath a spare tire, according to a brief filed in the case.

Tracey, 30, is imprisoned at the Wakulla Correctional Institution Annex, south of Tallahassee.

Tatjana Ostapoff, an assistant public defender who represented Tracey, said he had a reasonable expectation of privacy and that the warrant didn’t contemplate tracking his movements as they occurred. She contended that the tracking violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.

“There is no court order that justifies what was done in this case,” Ostapoff said.

But Melynda Melear, an assistant attorney general, said Tracey had voluntarily conveyed information to the cell-phone company, MetroPCS, and that he did not have an expectation of privacy. Also, she said the information met the definition of “historical” because the cell-phone company received the information first before relaying it.

Justices, who typically take months to rule in such cases, asked numerous questions of both attorneys.

At one point, Melear suggested that the Legislature or Congress probably should address the issue involved in the case. That drew a response from Justice Jorge Labarga, who pointed to a new state law that limits when police can use unmanned drones for surveillance, a law that backers said was intended to protect privacy.

“That seems to be where the Legislature is going,” Labarga said.

“But the Legislature hasn’t addressed this particular issue,” Melear responded.

–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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17 Responses for “Should Cops Have Power to Track You in Real Time Through Cell Phones? Court Will Decide.”

  1. The Truth says:

    Here’s an idea: Don’t give police officers/the NSA/the Government/Obama or anyone else a reason to follow you. Live your life with dignity and pride, don’t rip people off, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal and you’ll be just fine.

    • Nancy N. says:

      What makes you assume that every single person a warrant is requested for is guilty of something? That is a dangerous assumption.

      Especially as often as cell phone numbers change hands these days, a case of mistaken identity would be very easy.

      • The Truth says:

        I never said someone is guilty, but if I’m not doing anything wrong I have nothing to worry about. If the NSA/local police or even Obama himself want to look at my phone records, go right ahead. My texts to my wife or phone calls to my mother aren’t going to set off any alarms.

        There is a very thin line we walk in the country now. Everyone complains when something happens, asking where was our law enforcement, where was our government, why didn’t we stop this terrorist attack, why didn’t we catch the bomb getting onto that plane… but we don’t want to sacrifice anything. If we want to be secure, we are going to have to sacrifice our privacy. It’s impossible to do both, regardless of what you say.

        I am not saying that the NSA or any other organization should just snoop on anyone, but looking at phone records looking for anything that might be suspicious isn’t harmful to any of us. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

        • Nancy N. says:

          Define doing anything “wrong”? Do you ever discuss politics or religion in your phone calls or texts? Do you really want that information in your FBI/NSA/CIA file? You obviously care about keeping your opinions on those matter off the public record since you won’t post here with your actual name.

    • Reaganomicon says:

      Here’s an idea: before you assume that the NSA ad nausem are only following people that are criminals, maybe you should, you know, read about the issue. They aren’t just tracking criminals, they are gathering information about anyone that leaves a footprint on the internet or uses a cellphone to do anything, and once a company gets a warrant from FISC to allow the NSA or whoever to get access to their systems they are compelled to not say anything about it or they get tried for treason. You are a fool to put any trust at all in a governmental organization whose head lied in front of congress regarding the extent of their wiretapping and then waffled when caught in it.

      Case in point, read this:

      • The Truth says:

        I can assure you have I read up on the issue and I am well aware of what’s going on. The fact of the matter is that it’s people like you that want this country to be a secure castle but you expect that to happen by just pulling phone records for the bad guys? You do realize that many attacks/crimes are committed by people who have never committed a crime before, right?

        There is no fool proof way to stop every bit of crime from happening, but if it helps to pull internet history/phone records to look for suspicious activity then I am all for it. We (Americans) have this sense of privacy with everything we do yet we divulge what hour of the day we are going to the bathroom to our Facebook friends.

        More information can be gathered on the average U.S. Citizen by simply doing a Google search and pulling up their social media profiles. People claim that privacy is so important when they hear the government is trying to prevent terrorist acts by looking for suspicious activity in our phone records, yet we have no issue posting our life story on Facebook, Twitter and any other site out there. If you want privacy, be careful what you use the internet for.

  2. Ron says:

    I have no problem with using this technology at all, so long as a warrant is obtained.

    Like Truth says above, if you don’t like it, don’t break the law.

    • Nancy N. says:

      “if you don’t like it, don’t break the law.”

      Again, why the assumption that if a judge signs a warrant for something that means that the target of the warrant is guilty of a crime? Standards for warrants are extremely low, and not everyone accused of a crime is guilty of one.

      All I can say is…wait till they come for you and you’ll be singing a different tune.

      And you really should check out that NSA stuff…they are not only tracking criminals, but everyone who has ever had contact with anyone they suspect of being a criminal. Which means that if your high school classmate’s international travel made them look suspicious to the NSA, your emails or Facebook posts planning your class reunion make you a target for the NSA too.

      • Jim R. says:

        They will never come for someone like Mr Truth. He is the kind that will embrace his slavery and turn his neighbors in for what they think, which is coming closer and closer to being a crime in our growing police state.

      • The Truth says:

        I don’t live in a paranoid state like many of you do. I enjoy every day of my life and enjoy my privacy. I also realize that if I want privacy, I stay away from social media. I’m not saying I agree with all that’s happening, but I am saying that I am not paranoid to the point where I feel like the government is watching me.

        I believe everyone should take a deep breath and get a handle on themselves.

  3. johnny taxpayer says:

    Ah i forgot the last sentence of the 4th amendment says Police and Government can do whatever they want and if you dont like it dont break the law. I suppose the presumption of innocence until proven guilty also includes an asterisk that says “not really”?

  4. Don't Tread on Me says:

    Only use Pre-paid phones. This government and its CRONIES are fearing everyone nowdays, so everyone becomes a suspect and so, a ” Digital information Tap ” has now become a NORMAL part of this society.
    Please let the power grid go down for 3 years…PLEASE !!!!!!!!

    • The Truth says:

      Please take a step back from Alex Jones and Glenn Beck and get some fresh air. I think your tin foil hat may be on a little too tight.

  5. NOSTRADAMUS says:

    Just So Amazing what Uncle Sam Can Do!! When We were Under the Direction of Sheriff Bob Vogel, We Did What was Called a “PROFILE STOP” if You Fit the description it was Simple! Once The Patrol Car was behind said vehicle the Driver went into i cant stay in one Lane Mode !!!! Millions of Dollars in Drugs & Cash were Pouring in from these Stops. Sheriff Vogel’s Bottom Line was, We Got the $$$$$$ We got the Drugs, We Got The Caddy’s, They Got NADA !!!!!! Drugs & Thugs off the Streets! The END Result in Court was They Went Free, But Everything Else was Removed from the Street !!! WE WIN, DIRT BAGS LOOSE !!!! If Your Not Doing anything “ILLEGAL” WHO Care’s ??? Stop me, Listen to Me, Do What You have to Do Clusoe !! Butt My Space is My Space, Come There & Well Ya May NOT See the SUNRISE !!!!!

  6. Charles Gardner says:

    I think we should all have chip implants in our right shoulder complete with GPS and all our personal data including medical history.

  7. Sherry Epley says:

    OK. . . let’s assume you are completely innocent of any wrong doing what so ever. . . but, your teenager uses your Smart phone to get the scoop on some subversive organization they heard about in school. . . maybe even for some home work assignment. Then suppose your kid (or you) use the internet or phone to have a political conversation where you make an off the cuff comment about joining the Communist party. . . in jest. If the NSA picks up on this, you just may be put into a position of PROVING your innocence. Folks, the COSTS of paying for an attorney to prove you have done absolutely nothing wrong could bankrupt you and put your family into the street.

    Our basic freedoms of speech and rights to privacy are being tested here, and many of you are just willing to throw them out the window!

    Please note I use my name for these posts.

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