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Federal appeals court rules that Fourth Amendment protects cell phone location data

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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday that cell phone tower tracking data used to convict a Miami man for a string of arm robberies that resulted in a 162-year prison sentence violated his constitutional right of privacy.

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The ruling, however, is little relief for 22-year-old Quartavious Davis, whose conviction and sentence were mostly upheld after the court found police and federal prosecutors acted in good faith by seeking permission to access historical cell site data from a federal magistrate judge.

“The government’s warrantless gathering of his cell site location information violated his reasonable expectation of privacy,” federal Judge David Bryan Sentelle wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case comes as federal courts around the country wrestle with cell phone privacy issues. Phone data are often used as evidence to show suspects were in the vicinity of a crime.

“This is the first time a court has addressed the Fourth Amendment implications of historic cell phone location tracking based on a factual record that shows how intrusive it was,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Wednesday.

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The court agreed with the ACLU, which argued cell phone location data was protected under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling does not prevent police from using the cell phone tower tracking data, but requires them to first obtain a warrant from a judge based on probable cause and not simply a court order based on reasonable suspicion.

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The ruling did find in Davis’ favor on a minor issue over his sentencing on one count, stating that the evidence did not prove he brandished a gun during a robbery, only that he was in possession of one. Under the sentencing guidelines that would only amount to a two-year sentence reduction.

Davis was convicted in 2010 of carrying a gun during more than a half dozen robberies and sentenced to 1,941 months in prison. The unusually long sentence stemmed from a controversial practice known as “stacking,” in which mandatory minimum sentences for each charge are counted consecutively.

(Editing by David Adams and Jim Loney)

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[Image: “Senior Businessman Looking Through Blinds Whilst Making Call” via Shutterstock]

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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‘They love the meanest parts of him’: Conservative writer explains why evangelical Christians stick with Trump

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Ben Howe, a conservative writer and evangelical Christian who refuses to support Donald Trump, explained why fellow evangelicals continue to back the president despite his decidedly ungodly behavior.

Speaking with the Atlantic’s Emma Green about his new book The Immoral Majority, Howe — whose evangelical bona fides include attending pastor Jerry Falwell’s church as a kid — described evangelicals’ support for Trump, insisting “they love the meanest parts of him.”

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‘Mental midget’ Stephen Miller absolutely demolished in MSNBC blast at Trump’s ‘misfit’ advisers

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"Stephen Miller is a mental midget, that's the best thing I can say," Calloway began to the sounds of laughter offscreen.

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A black woman revealed over the weekend how President Donald Trump and right-wing media are straining her marriage.

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