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NJ Supreme Court Hears Cellphone Privacy Case

By Phil Gregory, WBGO News
Ternton. October 22, 2012

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Hughes Justice Complex, Trenton (photo by Phil Gregory)

The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering privacy issues in a case where police used cellphone information to track a burglary suspect without getting a search warrant.

Alison Perrone argued the case for the defendant, Thomas Earls.  She says residents have a reasonable expectation that their cellphone data will remain private.

 “People don’t expect when they go to bed at night with their cellphone by their side that the government can convert that device into a tracking device without their knowledge or their consent.”

Grayson Barber is an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center who joined the case on behalf of the defendant. She says there needs to be an appropriate standard for police to get access to cellphone info.

 “We’re not supposed to have a government of unlimited power. The Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of New Jersey put parameters around the power of law enforcement to locate us at any moment and the time is now to speak to that.”

Deputy Attorney General Brian Uzdavinis says police obtained the cellphone data under an emergency exemption allowing the search because they were concerned about the safety of a girlfriend Earls had threatened.  He says they didn’t violate Earls’ expectation of privacy because the cellphone information could only track his location within a mile.

“The defendant has no reasonable expectation in such generalized location information that would reveal nothing more than his general whereabouts.”

There’s no word on when the Justices will make a ruling in the case.

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