Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release

Press Release

EFF Backs Judge Calling for Warrant in Cell Phone Tracking Case

Recent Supreme Court Ruling Brings New Questions About Long-Term Surveillance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation and the ACLU Foundation of Texas Friday in backing a judge who required a search warrant before approving the seizure of two months of cell phone location data by law enforcement.

In this case, the government asked a magistrate judge to approve a request to two cell phone companies for 60 days of cell phone location records as part of a routine law enforcement investigation. The judge denied the request, saying it was necessary for the government to get a warrant based on probable cause before it could obtain the records. In an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, EFF argues that the judge was correct, as getting a warrant is essential to ensuring Fourth Amendment protections.

"The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in United States v. Jones that the GPS tracking of a vehicle without a warrant violates the reasonable expectation of privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. This is a very similar situation," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "People carry their cell phones with them wherever they go, all day long. Records of where we've been can reveal information about our health, our religion, our hobbies, and our politics. As technology advances, these records will become only more detailed and intrusive."

The government claims that cell phone users voluntarily disclose their physical location to their service provider every time their phone connects to a cell phone tower, meaning they give up their privacy rights under the "third-party doctrine." However, this theory would undermine privacy in nearly any networked communication. In fact, in the Jones case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed concern about the third-party doctrine, writing that it was "ill-suited to the digital age."

"The judge in this case has a right to demand probable cause before allowing access to this sensitive information," Fakhoury said. "This is a powerful tool that police should be able to use in criminal investigations, but only after they can get a warrant based on probable cause."

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) also signed on to Friday's brief.

For the full amicus brief:

For more on cell phone tracking:


EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.

Norwegian 'People vs. Arctic Oil' Case Heads to European Human Rights Court

"We have to take action now to limit irreversible damage to our climate and ecosystems to ensure livelihoods for the coming generations," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·

'Let Scientific Evidence Determine Origin' of Covid-19, Say Heads of US National Academies

"Misinformation, unsubstantiated claims, and personal attacks on scientists surrounding the different theories of how the virus emerged are unacceptable."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·

EU Parliament Overwhelmingly Votes to End Caged Animal Farming

1.4 million people across Europe signed a petition to "End the Cage Age," and MEPs are now calling for a ban by 2027.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·

Frontline Foe of Formosa Plastics Plant in 'Cancer Alley' Among 2021 Winners of 'Green Nobels'

Sharon Lavigne, the North American recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, is being recognized for stopping construction of a plastics manufacturing plant in her Louisiana community.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·

50+ Groups Urge Biden to Swiftly Fill Open Seat on FCC to Remedy Digital Divide, Restore Net Neutrality

"If we are to reach the goal of having a country where everyone, no matter their address or size of their bank account, has affordable access to high-speed internet, we need a full commission as soon as possible."

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·