Oct. 28, 2005 – In a ruling hailed by privacy rights advocates, a federal judge this week reaffirmed his earlier finding that federal law enforcement officials must show probable cause before monitoring cell phone users. The New York District Court decision keeps in place an August ruling and adds backbone to a similar order recently issued by a federal court in Texas.
- Privacy Advocates Attack Cell-phone Surveillance (Sep 28, 2005)
In a statement released Wednesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation termed the second ruling a "true victory for privacy in the digital age." Taken together, the decisions mark the first successful challenge to federal law enforcement agenciesâ€™ ability to turn new consumer technologies into civilian surveillance tools.
Cellular technology allows the location of phones to be tracked even when they are not in use.
Privacy advocates warn that allowing law enforcement to track cellular phones without having to show a court evidence that a crime has been or may be committed could lead to fishing investigations extending far beyond the reach of normal crime inquiries.
In August, New York District Court Judge James Orenstein found that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before tracking a suspectâ€™s movements using his or her cell phone. The Justice Department immediately asked the judge to review his decision.
On Monday, Orenstein criticized the governmentâ€™s arguments for expanded wiretap access as "misleading" and denied Justice Department lawyerâ€™s requests that he reverse the earlier decision.