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Monday, July 22, 2013

NJ Police Must Obtain Warrant to Track Cellphone

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a recent decision holding that police must obtain a search warrant before it can obtain and use tracking information from a person's cellphone service provider. State v. Earls.  
The case involved a police investigation into a string of burglaries in Middletown, New Jersey. A judge-issued order traced a cellphone that had been stolen from one of the homes to a man who told police he had bought the phone from his cousin. The police used data from the suspect's cellphone provider to track the suspect's movements, eventually finding him in a motel room with the stolen goods.
In a unanimous decision, the State Supreme Court said that when people entered cellphone contracts, "they can reasonably expect that their personal information will remain private." The court relied in part on the U.S. Supreme Court case from last year, U.S. v. Jones, that held that police could not attach GPS to a suspect's car without a warrant.   The New Jersey court further held that its ruling would not be applied retroactively (except in this case), and held that the new warrant requirement would begin 30 days after its ruling.
Because this issue has been decided differently in courts across the country, this case or one like it may eventually end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.


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