On February 6, 2001, Gus Boulis, a well-respected business tycoon, was gunned down in his car in Fort Lauderdale, Florida while driving away from a business meeting. Despite its high profile, the subsequent police investigation suffered from a lack of cooperation and a lack of physical evidence. The prosecutor gathered evidence for four years and finally charged three men with the murder. The three suspects have been awaiting trial for over five years, and a critical point of the pretrial wrangling has focused on the admissibility of two of the suspects’ cell phone records. These records are crucial to the case because an analysis of the location data contained in them places two of the men within 500 feet of the murder as it was taking place. However, the defense challenged the admissibility of the records because the police obtained them without a warrant. The defense claimed this action violated defendants’ constitutional rights, but on February 24, 2011, a Florida judge refused to suppress the cell phone records, citing federal precedent that indicates cell phone users have no reasonable expectation of privacy in location information gathered by the police. The prosecutors in this case saw a major victory in this ruling, but did the privacy rights of all Americans suffer a defeat?
There are approximately 277 million active cell phones in the United States. Beyond the obvious purpose of making calls, newer cell phone models can provide a user with turn-by-turn driving directions, Internet browsing, and even movie rentals. Cell phone owners routinely make calls from locations that, at one time, would have been thought impossible. This technology has become so widespread that cell phones now seem equally indispensable for the average teenager and the traveling businessman. However, some claim that cell phones also represent a serious threat to our constitutional right to privacy. Due in part to the relatively unobtrusive infrastructure of mobile networks, many people probably do not consider how this technology works or what information they may inadvertently be sharing with their cell phone company.