govt watching

Inquirer Editorial: Unanswered questions on cellphones, privacy

by  |  published on December 3, 2012

In 2011, cellphone providers reported handing 1.3 million requests from law enforcement for data about customers, according to the New York Times.

You might think that police would need a warrant to get at those records.

Not so, at least as far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned. Federal courts have yet to stop warrantless cellphone record searches, though cases are pending. The government says you have no expectation of privacy for cellphone calling records, since you’ve already “shared” them with a third party, the cellphone company.

Now, the good news: It’s likely harder for state and local police in this region to do that kind of warrantless fishing.

David Rudovsky, a senior fellow at Penn Law School who specializes in privacy issues, says “so far the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has provided some greater measure of protection for privacy” in this area.

However, Pennsylvania courts have ruled that if someone else is paying for your cellphone, you have no control over who looks at your calling records, so police are free to make use of them.

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