Court: ‘It’s Okay Police Located Man Using His Cellphone GPS While Jogging’

In a move straight out of the novel 1984, a U.S. appeals court has ruled that police could legitimately use the GPS function of a man’s mobile phone to track him down for selling marijuana while he was out for a jog.

The court found in a 2-1 ruling Melvin Skinner had no reasonable expectation of privacy when he was tracked by police in 2006 in Abilene, Texas using positioning signals emitted by his phone.

Skinner was convicted of possession of more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana, according to BLOOMBERG NEWS.  When he appealed the conviction the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Cincinnati) found the GPS tracking to be lawful and said that all the evidence found was admissible.

“If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal,” U.S Circuit Judge John M. Rogers said to Bloomberg News. “The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools.”

US. Circuit Judge Eric L. Clay agreed police would need a warrant only to attach a GPS to a suspect’s car.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said police would be at fault for attaching a tracking device on “a protected area,” but Rogers and Clay said Skinner’s case was not an intrusion.

However U.S. Circuit Judge Bernice Donald said using the phone was a “search” as defined by the U.S. Constitution, and federal agents should be required to either obtain a search warrant or explain why there should be an exception.  But Donald later agreed to Skinner’s convictions on other grounds.

“We do not mean to suggest there was no reasonable expectation of privacy because Skinner’s phone was used in the commission of a crime,” reported both Rogers and Clay. “On the contrary, an innocent actor would similarly lack a reasonable expectation of privacy in the inherent external locatability of a tool that he or she bought.”

So, an “innocent actor” should also not expect privacy from their cellphone?