Police Need a Warrant for Covert Cellphone Tracking, Maryland Court Rules

Civil liberties advocates say that the impact of the appellate court’s ruling will be far-reaching.

BALTIMORE – A Maryland appeals court upheld a previous ruling that requires law enforcement in the state to establish probable cause and obtain a warrant before using cellphone-tracking devices.

Civil liberties advocates say that the impact of the appellate court’s ruling will be far-reaching, since it is the first court of its kind in the country to rule on whether police must disclose their intent to a judge to obtain a warrant to use cell-tracking devices.

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ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler told the Washington Post he expected courts across the country to look to the Maryland opinion, which he said “shows why it is so important for these kinds of privacy invasions to be subjected to judicial review.”

The three-member panel of judges on Maryland’s intermediate Court of Special Appeals rebuked Baltimore police and prosecutors for “misleading” judges for years about secret and “unconstitutionally intrusive conduct.”

The 74-page, strongly worded opinion, published Wednesday, states “cellphone users have an objectively reasonable expectation that their cellphones will not be used as real-time tracking devices, through the direct and active interference of law enforcement.”

The briefcase-size cell-tracking devices – known by commercial names such as StingRay, Triggerfish and Hailstorm – imitate a cellular tower to have phones in an area connect to it and thereby enable real-time tracking.

The order upholds the decision of a lower court, which ruled that the police shouldn’t have used a cell-site simulator in a case involving Kerron Andrews, who was charged with attempted murder in 2014. Any evidence gathered using the device was suppressed on Fourth Amendment grounds, which lead the prosecutors to appeal, and ultimately to the current ruling.

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Tagged with: Cellular News

About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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