El Jefe

Florida Supreme Court to BSO: Stop Phone Tracking Without Warrants

The Florida Supreme Court fired a shot across the bow of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel yesterday.

In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled BSO cops had no right to stop and arrest Shawn Tracey, whom they stopped with a brick of cocaine and $23,000 cash.

The court said police need a search warrant approved by a judge to track someone's movements. In Tracey's case, a warrant had been obtained, but only for calls from the phone.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote: "Requiring a cellphone user to turn off the cellphone just to assure privacy from governmental intrusion that can reveal a detailed and intimate picture of the user's life places an unreasonable burden on the user to forgo necessary use of his cellphone, a device now considered essential."

"This is a big victory for privacy in Florida," said ACLU of Florida staff attorney Benjamin Stevenson. "Technology is changing all the time, but just because a technology you own is newer than the Constitution's protections doesn't mean it is exempt from them. Police all over the state should now put an end to warrantless cell-phone surveillance once and for all."

The Sun Sentinel recently reported that departments across the state are using a piece of equipment called the Sting Ray to track people's movements but that cops claim to get warrants whenever they use it. That turns out to be not quite true.

BSO wouldn't even tell the Sentinel whether it had a Sting Ray. What is Sheriff Israel hiding?

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement had spent $3 million on these. Sunrise Police have one but claim not to have records of how they are used.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 said GPS tracking amounts to a police search but didn't say warrants were always necessary. Two weeks ago, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia ruled prosecutors can use evidence gathered after a GPS device was put on a van without a warrant.

In the Florida case, dissenting Supreme Court justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston argued people understand they can be tracked.



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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse