MA high court: high court rules warrant needed for cell phone search

In an interesting cell phone data privacy case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before using a suspect's cell phone data to track his movements via GPS. SJC held a warrantless search violated Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiff in the case, Shabazz Augustine, was a suspect in a 2004 homicide of his girlfriend. Police obtained his cell phone records from Sprint that showed what towers were used as he traveled in Boston. Police relied on a federal law that only requires “information to be relevant to an investigation” in order to get the data, as opposed to requesting a search warrant (and having a judge find probable cause regarding the target’s involvement in the case).

Practically speaking, the case is somewhat dated: police in most criminal cases now request warrants for such data anyway.