In 2015, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled in United States v. Graham that the collection of cell site location information (CSLI) without a search warrant was an unreasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment. With Graham, the Fourth Circuit split from all of the other circuits to have decided this question. Earlier this year, however, on May 31, 2016, an en banc Fourth Circuit reversed course, holding contrary to the original Fourth Circuit decision in United States v. Graham that a warrant is not required for CSLI.
With the new en banc decision the Fourth Circuit now falls in line with rulings from the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Eleventh Circuits. Similarly, most rulings at the District Court level in the remaining circuits have rendered comparable decisions, providing some clarity to how government practitioners can use CSLI in their investigations, without worrying that the evidence will be later suppressed.
This paper analyzes the current state of the law on the use of CSLI, focusing on the facts and Fourth Amendment arguments of the Graham opinions and the relevant cases in other jurisdictions. It also details potential implications for other services that obtain metadata similar to CSLI.
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Does Seeking Cell Site Location Information Require a Search Warrant?: The Current State of the Law in a Rapidly Changing Field,
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/public_integrity/66