The Supreme Court of Wisconsin Grants Review in Cell Phone Tracking Case.
wherein the defendant was captured by police using cell phone location information they obtained without a warrant from his cell phone service provider.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, section 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution generally prohibit warrantless searches and seizures by the government. However, the courts have held that warrants are required only for situations where the person has a 'legitimate' or 'reasonable' 'expectation of privacy' in the thing or place searched (Katz v. U.S.). Complicating matters, the courts have developed a litany of exceptions to the warrant requirement.
The question of whether a person has such an expectation of privacy has been examined in cases ranging from conversations in a phone booth, to searches of ice fishing shanties, to police rummaging through trash cans left at the curbside. In the case of cell phone records, the State of Wisconsin will likely argue that a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy to the their cell phone location information, which is information they (usually) unwittingly provide to their cell phone company without the government being involved. This is exactly what the United States has already argued in similar cases on the subject, for example, In re Applications of the United States of America for Historical Cell-Site Data. The Sixth Circuit, in U.S. v. Skinner, ruled last year that there is no legitimate expectation of privacy to cell phone location information.
No matter how the federal courts come out on this issue, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is empowered to interpret the Wisconsin Constitution in a manner the affords more protection to the citizens of Wisconsin, and it should do in this case. This conduct is intrusive. As one federal judge has pointed out, "A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."
There are certainly competing interests at stake. We all want criminals apprehended (unless you are one). However, what are we willing to hand over to the government in exchange for our security? What good is security if we have no freedom? If I were King, the government would have to have to convince a judge that there is probable cause of criminal behavior before having access to this kind of information. But since I am not, I will be watching this case closely. Stay tuned.