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Maryland Court to Baltimore Police: Want to Track Phones? Get a Warrant.
In what privacy advocates are hailing as a landmark decision, Maryland’s second-highest court has handed down the first appellate opinion in the country affirming that police must obtain a probable cause warrant to track cell phones.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued the opinion in a ruling that rebuked Baltimore Police for failing to disclose that they had used a device called a cell site simulator, often referred to as a “stingray,” to locate an attempted murder suspect.
The device mimics a cell phone tower, triggering all cell phones in an area to connect with it and determine where a particular phone is located. The judges said cell phones have become ubiquitous, and in turn can be transformed into real-time tracking devices.
“We conclude that people have a reasonable expectation that their cell phones will not be used as real-time tracking devices by law enforcement, and — recognizing that the Fourth Amendment protects people and not simply areas — that people have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in real-time cell phone location information,” the judges wrote.
Dan Kobrin, an attorney with the public defender’s office who argued the case before the court, said the impact is “enormous” and “will hopefully curb abuse of this device and bring it out into the sunlight.” But he said it was unclear whether the ruling can be applied retroactively.