The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled 2-to-1 Tuesday to uphold a 20-year-prison sentence for a marijuana smuggler who was caught after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracked his pay-as-you-go phone's location data from its communication with nearby cell towers.
As circuit court Judge John Rogers wrote in his majority opinion: "Unfortunately for the drug runners, the phones were trackable in a way they may not have suspected..."
The decision appears to uphold the "third-party doctrine," a legal precedent that states that citizens who readily provide information to third parties, in this case a cellular phone company, don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The decision adds a layer of nuance and arguably complications to the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Jones in January that warrantless GPS tracking is unconstitutional if it involves physically intruding on a suspect's property. Wired has more on the ruling.
Correction: This post originally incorrectly stated that the court that made the ruling was the U.S. Court of Appeals For the 6th District, when it fact, it was for the 6th Circuit. We apologize for the error and have since corrected it in copy.