Two men point a gun at the worker of a Lakewood convenient store and told him to empty the cash register. The owner gave them the money, but the robbers made the mistake of also taking the victim’s iPhone.
The next day, a team of local cops and Denver cops had caught one of the men by tracking the iPhone. The cell phone provider AT&T released the information to the cops as to updates to the iPhone location.
In this case the owner of the iPhone, the man robbed, gave permission to the police to track the location of his phone. The problem becomes what process do police need to go through to be allowed to track cell phones.
The Supreme Court Ruled on a vote 5 to 4 that police tracking people via their real time data from their cell phones without a search warrant was a potential violation of our fourth amendment right.
Cell phone providers can provide historical data and real time data, so should they be able to provide certain data and not others? None of these questions have easy answers. Everyone has an opinion about it. Here is one:
"Cell providers can locate every smartphone at any given moment. The question becomes who's privy to that information and under what circumstances," said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council. "Because you're giving that information to the cell provider — a third party — when you buy the phone, does that invalidate a right to privacy?"
No one really has made a decision about what circumstances are okay and what situation it is unacceptable for police to check up on. In the case of the robbery, it seems like a pretty obvious answer. Other cases will not be as cut and dry. Police everywhere go by different rules, if they follow any, but there is no national standard.
Obtain cell phones data has become an initial step in many investigations, said Lakewood Police Department spokesman Steve Davis.
"Every law enforcement agency I'm aware of uses this kind of technology to locate people," Davis said. "We have technology available to us today that certainly wasn't available just a few years ago."
Even within different departments of Denver there are different methods of approaching cell phone tracking. Nationally there is no protocol, but one can imagine how much it varies.
This will be an issue to keep an eye on. How much do you want cops being able to poke into your lives without a search warrant or even probably cause?