Collecting personal Location Data is an Invasion of Privacy

Article Updated [6/25/2014]
Supreme Court Rules that Phone searches without warrants are illegal, making it more difficult for police to do their job.

In a research paper titled, When Enough is Enough: Location Tracking, Mosaic Theory, and Machine Learning, authors Stevens M. Bellovin et al. explains that a collection of a week’s worth of datapoints from our GPS enabled smartphones is enough to count as a violation of our fourth amendment rights due to “unreasonable search” because our location tracking allows any program to piece together who we are, where we have been, and who we have been with.

The topic they bring to light is the idea of the Mosaic Theory which states that you can piece together individual data points from a phone’s tracking device to create an overall picture of the person. Individually data points can not be counted as an violation of the fourth amendment right of illegal search and seizure but when all the pieces are put together that is where the courts are having a problem in determining whether or not that counts as an invasion of privacy and as an illegal search.

The US Supreme Court, in the case of the United States vs. Jones, in 2012 said that placing a police tracking device on a suspect’s car was considered an illegal search and seizure because it was a physical intrusion into his privacy. Antoine Jones, who was just a nightclub owner, was followed for 28 days, which, according to Justice Samuel Alito said that more than four weeks worth of data was more than enough to detail a person’s personal life.

What are you Carrying On You
Most people carry a smartphone with them and use their GPS tracking device in order to get directions, check-in to places, and connect with friends but all that information is being stored by the phone companies. Infact, without a warrant, any law enforcement agency can request location data of any user without a warrant or even a subpoena because most companies are just willing to hand over the information. This shows that most law enforcement agencies use bullying practices to make it appear that their actions are legal but since this is a grey area they are taking advantage of the system as long as they legally can until the court system says otherwise or someone posts a complaint for a change in search and seizures on change.org.

The research paper showed that just one week of data was enough to show that a person’s personal life and habits can be shown in detail, enough for any law enforcement agency to use that information against you in a court of law. Many police agencies use predictive software to show where crimes might take place using the public information that they rely on. If changes to the way police are allowed to collect personal data from phones, social media accounts, and other data tracking software then people will be able to determine what information police can use and what information they can not in any investigation.

Right now the debate is still raging on and police are still abusing their right to use public information that violates fourth amendment rights so before any changes can take place just be aware of how much information you are giving away every time you use your phone that requires location tracking. You just might be surprised who is actually using that data.

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