FL Supreme Court says warrantless cell phone spying a no-go

Thanks to the Florida Supreme Court and a drug dealer, Sunshine State police can no longer track unsuspecting citizens through their cell phones without a warrant.

That’s welcome news to those concerned about local law enforcement’s use of advanced surveillance technology, sometimes supplied by military contractors, to monitor cell phone locations and incoming and outgoing phone numbers.

Public records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show the practice has been widespread and mostly under the radar.

cell phone
Photo credit: Mashable.com

Law enforcement officials contend the surveillance technique and the associated electronic tools are used to track criminal suspects, and the excess information is discarded.

But with the police providing their own oversight, the exposure of sensitive private information and the potential for abuse are major concerns, a former state prosecutor told Watchdog.org.

“You’re supposed to be free from that kind of government intrusion,” said Christopher Torres, a former state assistant attorney general, now a defense attorney at the Tallahassee-based law firm Casey Torres.

“What’s troubling about some of this technology is that it’s provided by national defense companies allegedly to give police intelligence capabilities to combat terrorism. The problem is that it’s being used for law enforcement purposes. It’s a lesson in mission creep,” Torres said.

The high court specifically addressed a case involving police orders to cell phone companies. But its ruling extends to cover controversial mobile surveillance devices known as Stingrays, portable electronic tools that mimic cell phone towers and trick all phones in a given area into transmitting identifying information.

Read more at Watchdog.org.

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