AT&T: Government may need warrant to obtain location data

AT&T has joined the growing legal conversation around the privacy of location data, stating that federal investigators might be required to obtain a warrant before gathering such data in the future, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

While federal investigators are still required to obtain permission from a judge in order to gather the location data of a cellphone customer, the standard of proof is lower than that of a warrant thanks to a 1970s-era Supreme Court ruling which allows the government to collect phone records without probable cause.

This ruling is what AT&T has taken issue with, stating in a recent court-brief:

Nothing in those [prior court] decisions contemplated, much less required, a legal regime that forces individuals to choose between maintaining their privacy and participating in the emerging social, political, and economic world facilitated by the use of today's mobile devices or other location-based services.

While at first this may seem like AT&T has come out in support of customer privacy, it isn't taking a position on whether courts should be required to obtain a warrant, or something less. Instead, it is seeking clarification by higher courts on the types of approval investigators would need to gather cellphone location data.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Dan Thorp-Lancaster