Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Quartavious Davis: No expectation of privacy in cell tower location information

In U.S. v. Quartavious Davis, No. 12-12928 (May 5, 2015) (en banc) (9-2), the Court held that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred when a court order, authorized by the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d), compelled a telephone company to produce records containing cell tower location information related to Davis’ cell phone. The Court noted that the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Miller and Smith v. Maryland held that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in bank records, or dialed telephone numbers, because these records are maintained by a third-party business. Analogizing to these cases, and relying on a recent Fifth Circuit case, the Court found that cell tower location information is held by a third-party, not by the individual, and the individual therefore has no reasonable expectation of privacy in these records. The Court noted that unlike U.S. v. Jones, the case did not involve any surreptitious physical intrusion on the defendant’s private property. The Court also noted that cell tower information is less informative than the GPS tracking at issue in Jones. The Court also noted that there was “no overhearing or recording of any conversations.” [Judge Pryor, concurring, stated: “If a telephone caller does not want to reveal dialed numbers to the telephone company, he has another option: don’t place a call.”] [Judges Jordan and Rosenbaum, separately concurring, noted concerns that more protection might be needed in the future as location information from cell phones become more precise.] [Judges Martin and Jill Pryor, dissenting, found the third-party doctrine inapposite, noting that if applicable, it would eliminate expectations of privacy in email accounts, search-engine histories, shopping-site purchases, cloud-storage files, and the like.].