Warrantless Access to Phone’s GPS Coordinates Approved

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By Lance J. Rogers

Dec. 6 — Police didn’t violate a suspected sex trafficker’s rights when they persuaded his mobile phone provider to surrender real-time GPS coordinates that helped the cops capture him after he took an underage girl to New York City to work as a prostitute, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Dec. 1 ( United States v. Gilliam , 2016 BL 399166, 2d Cir., No. 15-387, 12/1/16 ).

The police didn’t need a warrant because the location technology qualified as “other information” that providers are allowed to divulge under 18 U.S.C. §2702(c)(4) whenever they have a good faith belief that immediate disclosure is necessary to avoid “death or serious physical injury,” the court said in an opinion by Judge Jon O. Newman.

Real-Time Location

Jamal Gilliam argued that this wasn’t simply a request for information or records because Sprint was asked to actively “ping” Gilliam’s phone and create real-time location data. The court disagreed.

When Congress passed the Stored Communications Act it intended the phrase “other information” to cover broad aspects about the customer’s use of the service, the court said.

Even assuming that Gilliam had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his location data that might support a Fourth Amendment challenge, that claim fails in the face of the exigent circumstances in this case, the court added. It noted that courts often justify warrantless entry into premises to avoid the risk of injury to a minor.

Sexual exploitation of a minor certainly qualifies as a significant risk of serious bodily injury, it added.

Judges José A. Cabranes and Ralph K. Winter joined the opinion.

Robert A. Culp, Garrison, N.Y., represented Gilliam. The U.S. Attorney’s Office represented the government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lance J. Rogers in Washington at LRogers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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