Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Justices Tackle Issue of Cellphone Privacy

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Justices Tackle Issue of Cellphone Privacy

Article excerpt

Justices of the state Supreme Court wrestled Monday with drawing new privacy protections in a world where police can engage in the sophisticated tracking of suspects using the most ubiquitous of devices: the cellphone.

Attorneys for privacy rights groups and for defendant Thomas W. Earls said that the warrantless use of cellphone location information violates cellphone users' constitutional rights and their expectations of privacy.

They're seeking to build on a U.S. Supreme Court case decided earlier this year that restricted the use of GPS tracking technology to track a suspect's car without judicial approval and hope a victory in this case would set an important national precedent that would expand privacy rights.

Federal courts have split on the protections the U.S. Constitution affords to cellphone tracking information. Earls' attorney, as well as privacy advocates who joined his case, argued the justices should extend privacy protections in New Jersey using the state's constitution, which establishes more expansive protections against warrantless police searches.

"I think that cellphone location data can be more of a significant violation" of privacy rights, said Alison Perrone, Earls' court-appointed attorney, directly addressing the U.S. Supreme Court's earlier decision, which was referenced repeatedly by the justices.

"The issue comes down to the relationship of cellphone users and the government," added Grayson Barber, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group that joined the suit in Earls' behalf. "Cellphone surveillance and location surveillance is very cheap. It can be conducted surreptitiously."

Yet Deputy Attorney General Brian Uzdavinis urged the court to narrowly consider the unusual circumstances surrounding Earls' arrest on burglary charges in Monmouth County in 2006.

Police, he argued, used tracking technology that's rudimentary by today's standards and that only put them within a mile of Earls.

The case, Uzdavinis said, is not about "warrantless pervasive mass surveillance" but concerns the limited use of cellphone tracking information to find a suspect for whom police already had an arrest warrant. …

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