MONTH-IN-BRIEF (Nov 2017)
D.C. Court of Appeals Requires Search Warrant for Cell Site Simulator Tracking
By Ed McAndrew, Ballard Spahr
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently reversed the robbery and sexual assault convictions of a man whose location was tracked through the use of a cell site simulator, or Stingray device, without a warrant. Jones v. U.S., No. 15-CF-322, (D.C. App. Sept. 21, 2017).
The court held that a law enforcement agency’s tracking of the location of a particular person by using a simulator that attracts the cellular signals of the person’s cellphone violates that person’s reasonable expectation of locational privacy. The government generally must obtain a search warrant before using a cell site simulator to determine a person’s location. The D.C. Court of Appeals joins state and federal courts in Maryland, New York. These courts have rejected the government’s argument that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in digital signals that their devices emit to third parties, an argument that the Supreme Court will take up in U.S. v. Carpenter.