In a recent case involving investigators’ use of individuals’ cell phone data, a Massachusetts court determined that law enforcement infringed on the defendant’s privacy rights by using his cell phone provider’s data without first asking his permission. The court suppressed part of the incriminating evidence that had been presented against the defendant, reminding investigators that they have to have probable cause before attempting to obtain cell phone data when looking for suspects of a crime.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, throughout September and October of 2018, clerks at six stores in the Boston area were robbed at gunpoint by an unidentified suspect. On a separate occasion in the same area, a suspect shot and killed a store clerk during an attempted robbery. There were several commonalities between the incidents, including that the stores were convenience of gasoline stores, the perpetrator in all of the incidents had the same build, and the robber used similar tactics in each offense.
Investigators worked with the FBI to identify a suspect. They looked at data from “tower dumps,” which are data sets including an enormous amount of cell phone location information from towers in a given area. The investigators obtained two warrants: one relating to three of the robberies, the second relating to three of the other robberies. Each warrant required cell phone providers to hand over information about where their customers were located on the day and time of each robbery.