Cell interrogation: US federal judges raise the constitutional question

In the USA, judges in a federal court have repeatedly rejected the investigative authorities’ request for approval of a radio cell query, citing constitutional concerns. The judges’ rulings are remarkable because they call into question US cell polling procedures.

In a preliminary investigation into drug theft, authorities in Chicago had requested a court order to force Google to disclose location and user data. The authorities wanted information on identification numbers and location data of all smartphones that had been in certain places on different dates.

A three-stage process has been established in the USA for such data output. In the first step, Google should transmit anonymized data from the devices that were at the location in question at the time in question. The authorities then select certain devices from this list about which they would like to receive further information. For a further reading of the device pool, identifying information about the account holder is then requested.

The judges in the Chicago trial was too unspecific, as the court documents show, published by the US civil rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) were. The lawyers are of the opinion that the application is too broad in view of the target region in the densely populated urban area. This brings him into conflict with the fourth amendment to the constitution, which requires precise delimitation of surveillance and search warrants.

While there is sufficient reason to believe that a cell phone user could have committed a crime within the delimited areas, Federal Judge David Weisman admitted in an initial denial of the motion. But it was not sufficiently justified why all other affected devices were also connected to the crime. The target area of ​​the application is not “narrowly tailored” if the majority of those recorded in a busy city have “nothing at all to do with the criminal offenses investigated”.

Weisman also criticizes the fact that “the undisciplined and exaggerated use” of radio cell interrogations “endangers privacy and trust in law enforcement officers”. According to Google that was The number of queries in 2018 increased by 1500 percent compared to 2017. The instrument is also controversial in this country and, according to lawyers, should be reviewed by the Federal Constitutional Court.

After their application was rejected, the authorities had submitted a modified application in which the target region was slightly reduced. A second judge, Gabriel Fuentes, also denied this request. Investigators tried a third time and suggested that they forego the third step of identifying suspicious accounts. Fuentes did not respond to this, however, as the administration admitted that they could use a separate arrangement to get to the detailed user information.

Fuentes also refers to a Decision of the Supreme Courtaccording to which a search warrant for a bar and an employee there did not give the police the authority to search anyone who happened to be on the premises. This announcement can be related to the current procedure.


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