In 2015, a person rarely goes anywhere without his or her cell phone. Cell phones1 have become an indispensable component of personal and professional life. Throughout the day, a cell phone continuously connects with service towers, called cell sites, which change with the user's location. Service providers record the cell site history of a customer. This history, known as historical cell site data, automatically generates and can reveal a great deal of personal information about a cell phone user's life by tracking his or her movements with impressive precision.
The ubiquity of cell phones, coupled with the precision of historical cell site data, makes service providers' records extremely useful for law enforcement in criminal investigations. The government often uses historical cell site data to place a suspect at the scene of a crime. Controversially, the government is able to compel service providers to disclose this comprehensive and personal information without having to show probable cause.
First, this Comment discusses the disagreement among the Circuits whether the government should be required to show probable cause, rather than specific and articulable facts, to compel a service provider to disclose historical cell site data. Second, this Comment urges the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve this conflict. Third, this Comment advocates for the Court to recognize a reasonable expectation of privacy in cell site location information, and require a showing of probable cause before allowing the government to compel disclosure of historical cell site information. Finally, this Comment discusses why the Fourth Amendment's third-party exception should not abrogate a person's reasonable expectation of privacy in cell site information, and further details why the probable cause standard is proper to impose on law enforcement.
Elizabeth G. Hodgson,
The Propriety of Probable Cause: Why the U.S. Supreme Court Should Protect Historical Cell Site Data With A Higher Standard,
Dick. L. Rev.
Available at: https://ideas.dickinsonlaw.psu.edu/dlra/vol120/iss1/6