In a case heard by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia on Friday, the U.S. government argued for the right to access cell phone records of suspected criminals without a warrant according to Reuters. Lower court rulings already denied the request; hence, the appeal.
The information obtained in phone records could include dates of calls, location of towers, and duration of conversations. Although the Justice Department claims actual conversations won't be monitored, civil rights attorneys argued this would be an invasion of privacy.
During the court proceedings, attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology argued officials should be required to obtain a warrant showing probable cause. The attorneys went on to say knowing the location of a cell tower provided in the records can narrow down a person's location to one tenth of a mile, violating the "constitutional right protecting a person from unreasonable seizure" as reported by Reuters.
The government’s request to track cell phones without a warrant was originally heard in 2008 and denied by a magistrate judge. The decision was upheld by a district court, and the government is now appealing the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. According to a 2008 brief, the government claims "cell tower information is useful to law enforcement because of limited information it provides about the location of a cell phone when a call is made."
A three judge panel heard oral arguments on Friday. One judge in particular questioned the government's right to track individuals. A decision is expected in the next few months.