A United States appeals court ruled on Tuesday that law enforcement officials are not required to obtain a warrant to get access to a cellphone’s location data, as long as they obtain it from the wireless carrier.
The ruling was made possible because of a long-standing legal theory, working on the premise that the information is already being shared with a third party — specifically the carriers, Reuters said. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virg. voted 12 to 3 in favor of the decision, overturning a split opinion from three judges at the court in 2015.
The legal battle sprang from a series of armed robberies that took place in the Baltimore area in 2011. Police obtained 221 days of cellphone data from Sprint, which included around 29,000 location records. The data was used as evidence to ultimately convict two suspects in the robberies.
Judge Diana Motz, writing for the majority opinion in the ruling, said the decision doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, as cellphone owners know they are sharing their location data with their carrier.
Judge James Wynn, writing for the dissenting judges, held the opinion that cellphone owners do not actively choose to share their location with the carrier, and any data related to such sharing should be exempt from the third-party sharing theory.
Tuesday’s ruling may not be the last word on the subject, as the Supreme Court could be forced to rule on the case, due to lower court challenges.