By Chelsea Albers, JMI Intern and Florida State University Junior in International Affairs & Languages
On September 7, 2010, a Philadelphia appeals court ruled in favor of the U.S. Government in a precedent-setting case concerning whether or not a warrant is needed to obtain information from telecommunications providers about customers.It all began when the Justice Department applied for a court order to make a cell-phone company provide information about specific customers suspected of being involved in drug-trafficking; however, the DOJ did not have a warrant for the information. Therefore, the judge denied the request on the grounds that cell-phone records are protected by the Fourth Amendment and thus, cannot be obtained without a warrant.The specific information of interest was the locations from which the cell-phone calls were sent/received. Arguing that the Fourth Amendment does not protect privacy of location, the Justice Department insisted that the only prerequisite required for obtaining this information from telecommunication providers is found in a 2703(d) order, which states that the government must prove there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of a wire or electronic communication … are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”The Justice Department defended their argument by referencing the Supreme Court case United States v. Knotts (1983), which ruled that the warrantless installment of tracking devices inside drums of chemicals, in order to follow the movement of illegal drug manufacturers on highways, was constitutional because they had no expectation of privacy while driving in plain view on the highways. Furthermore, the information is not considered private to begin with because it is already shared with the telecommunications provider.Therefore, according to our government, tracking suspects via cell-phone usage without a warrant is constitutional because there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy” concerning the location. Now I don’t believe anyone is arguing that cell phone records shouldn’t be used for catching criminals; however, the requirement of a warrant protects innocent citizens from being exploited by the ever-increasing government intrusion into individual’s lives.Before cell phones were ever even a glimmer of an idea, our Founding Fathers understood the dangers of giving government direct access to our personal property and records.  Now America is faced with an important question: Should we give our government the ability to track our location without probable cause, or should we protect ourselves through the requirement of a warrant as mandated by the Constitution?