We have previously written about landmark decisions regarding law enforcement’s ability to conduct warrantless searches. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the police must obtain a search warrant before accessing cellular phones and other electronic devices such as electronic tablets. The high court also issued a ruling suggesting that law enforcement would be better served by obtaining permission before implanting GPS tracking devices on suspects’ vehicles.
In a ruling that may be cited in courts across the country, the Florida Supreme Court recently held that the police must obtain a warrant before collecting phone metadata and using technology to track suspects movements without their knowledge.
Essentially, the court held that intercepting cell phone data to track a person’s location or movement in real time is a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment. As such a warrant is required before conducting such a search.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. In instances where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant before conducting a search. Of course, the privacy distinction has been the subject of much debate as technological upgrades have been used to locate and track just about anyone with an electronic device.
Nevertheless, police in New Jersey should be aware that before they may track a person by following their cell phone, a search warrant should be obtained. Keep in mind that the Florida ruling is not the law in New Jersey, but an experienced lawyer could use the ruling to defend against an arrest.