Sixth Circuit Says Police Can Track Your Phone Without a Warrant

Two days ago, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not protect against warrantless cell phone tracking. This means, the police do not need to show probable cause prior to tracking a person’s location through their cell phone.

The case was United States v. Skinner,  and Skinner, the defendant, was a suspected marijuana trafficker who was being investigated by the DEA. The law enforcement agents were able to track Skinner’s whereabouts through technology that allowed them to view his location through his cell phone, without his knowledge, and, more importantly, without a warrant. The agents tracked Skinner’s activity for approximately three days, and eventually caught Skinner in possession of a quantity of marijuana. The Sixth Circuit found that the police had not violated the Fourth Amendment in doing so, and Skinner was convicted. The court said that “The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen.”

Although Pennsylvania is not in the Sixth Circuit, and the Third Circuit has not yet ruled on this specific issue, it is possible that the Third Circuit will rule the same way. If so, police would be permitted to track any individual’s whereabouts at any time, without a warrant. By using their technology, police could check if a person was at home, at the gym, at church, or anywhere else that person might go. Police would also know the time the person arrived, the time they left, and where they went next. If you have any concerns or questions about your Fourth Amendment rights under Pennsylvania law, please feel free to contact our office at 610.845.3803.

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