Authorities only need a court order and not a more stringent search warrant to obtain cellphone records that can be used to track a person’s movements, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an order by a Houston federal judge who had said cellphone data is constitutionally protected from intrusion and can only be acquired with a search warrant.
In 2011, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes had upheld a magistrate judge’s 2010 ruling that had denied a request by federal authorities in three separate criminal investigations to compel cellphone companies to provide — without a search warrant — 60 days of records for several phones.
In overturning Hughes’ order, the appeals court in New Orleans said such data is a business record that belongs to the cellphone provider. It also said its collection by authorities does not have to meet a probable cause standard as outlined under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful search and seizure and requires a search warrant.