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Police don’t need a warrant to search mobile phone location information that is automatically transmitted to the service provider, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled May 4 ( Zanders v. State , 2017 BL 148778, Ind., No. 15S01-1611-CR-571, 5/4/17 ).
Mobile phone users do not have an expectation of privacy in these records because they willingly share that information with mobile phone providers, the court held. In doing so, it joined the majority of federal circuit courts to have ruled on the subject.
The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits agree with the Indiana Supreme Court.
The Third Circuit has held that a warrant is not required to access these records, but left open the possibility that such disclosures could implicate the Fourth Amendment in certain circumstances.
Police requested mobile phone records from service provider Sprint to locate Marcus Zanders, an at-large armed robbery suspect. Police ended up not needing the records to locate him, but prosecutors later presented the records at trial.
Zanders argued that police should have obtained a warrant before searching and seizing his records, and that their failure to do so violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
But the records merely located the cell towers closest to Zanders’s phone—rather than his person—and he had voluntarily relinquished that information to Sprint, the court said.
Nor were Zanders’s state constitutional rights violated. Such violations are measured using a totality of the circumstances test.
Because Zanders was armed and dangerous and his privacy interest in the records was low, the police interest in locating him outweighed any potential violation he suffered, the court said.
“Granted, hindsight tells us that the” records were “not what ultimately led police to Zanders; that was old-fashioned physical surveillance,” Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush wrote for the majority. “But the issue is whether police were justified in requesting” the location data “in the heat of this armed-robbery-suspect hunt. They were.”
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