The Florida Supreme Court has ruled in favor of protecting a privacy right that many Floridians might not have even known they'd lost, and we have a convicted drug dealer to thank.
Police departments often use cell phone data and spying tools known as "stingrays" to track people's locations through their cell phone calls, often without obtaining a warrant first. Last week the Florida Supreme Court ruled that practice violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits illegal searches and seizures.
The case stems from the 2007 arrest of Shawn Alvin Tracey. Cops suspected Tracey was moving cocaine from Broward County to the west coast of the state, and police used his cell phone to track his movements. He was eventually caught with 400 grams of coke.
Tracey and his legal team argued that using his cell phone data was illegal, but prosecutors believed he had no right to privacy while traveling on public roads. The court decided otherwise.
"We conclude that Tracey had a subjective expectation of privacy in the location signals transmitted solely to enable the private and personal use of his cell phone, even on public roads, and that he did not voluntarily convey that information to the service provider for any purpose other than to enable use of his cell phone for its intended purpose," read the court's 5-2 decision.
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In other words, simply using your cell phone does not give authorities the right to track its usage without a warrant.
"Following people's movements by secretly turning their cell phones into tracking devices can reveal extremely sensitive details of our lives, like where we go to the doctor or psychiatrist, where we spend the night, and who our friends are," ACLU staff attorney Nate Freed Wessler said in a statement. "Police are now on notice that they need to get a warrant from a judge before tracking cell phones, whether using information from the service provider or their own 'stingray' cell phone tracking equipment."
Though similar cases have made their way through courts in other states, Florida was the first state to rule that the practice violated the Fourth Amendment, which means the case might eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.