Wednesday, April 20, 2011

iPhones Track Location -- What Are The Fourth Amendment Implications?

News reports from England suggest that iPhones and iPads keep track of where users go.  The information is kept on a file that is backed up on the user’s computer.

The file created by the iPhone apparently contains the latitude and longitude of the phone's recorded coordinates along with a timestamp.

Obviously, this is a huge threat to privacy -- anyone who accessed the iPhone or the computer it syncs to, whether through theft, snooping, or otherwise, could discover details about the owner's movements.

So what are the Fourth Amendment implications of this?  A couple come quickly to mind.

First, if law enforcement is able to access an iPhone legally – whether as a result of an arrest of the owner or if the phone is abandoned – then current law in most locations would allow the police to access this data.

Second, law enforcement may argue that it can access this information anytime without a warrant.  This argument is based on the same justification for putting a GPS on a person’s car without a warrant:  a person has no expectation of privacy wherever they can be seen by the public.

I will post more on this later.

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