A three-judge federal court panel determined that people have “an expectation of privacy in their movements and that the cell tower data was part of that.”

The ruling requires investigators to obtain a search warrant issued by a judge, in order to obtain “cell phone tower tracking data” that is widely used as evidence to show suspects were in the vicinity of a crime.

The ruling highlights the constitutional conundrum the City of Hollister will find itself in by proceeding with its May 5 decision (Resolution No. 2014-85) authorizing supplemental appropriations from the general fund to install surveillance/spy cameras with sound/voice capturing technology. However, the question raised by the federal court ruling, for Hollister city leaders, is whether the images recorded by the surveillance/spy cameras, together with their sound/voice capturing technology — the ability to listen to conversations between and among individuals — as well as cell phone tête-à-tête, rely on “cell phone tower tracking data” technology as determined by the 11th Federal Circuit Court. As it reads, it would appear that in view of the fact that cell phone technology is so interwoven and integrated with surveillance technology, it does. As a result, the city council’s decision might very well be in violation of this constitutional ruling and most definitely challengeable in court.

Since the court’s ruling requires a search warrant for the acquisition of such records, obtaining “cell phone tower tracking data” is also a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “The court soundly repudiates the government’s arguement that merely by using a cell phone, people somehow surrender their privacy rights,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case. While cases regarding cell phones tower records have not, as of yet, been ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court, it did rule that attaching GPS tracking devices on suspects’ vehicles constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

The 11th Circuit Court decision, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama, relied on the Supreme Courts’ GPS 2012 decision. The three-judge Federal Court panel also stated that other federal courts have considered similar arguments — meaning that the Supreme Court will, in due course, address the issue.

Therefore, it would be right, proper and necessary for the city leaders to take advantage of the legal pending constitutional question to delay or cease the installation of the surveillance/spy camera until the controversy between privacy and civil liberties versus surveillance cameras violation of individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights is settled.  

More importantly, do we want a society where an innocent person can’t freely walk in Hollister’s streets, without being considered a potential criminal?

Do we want a society where people are COMFORTABLE with constant surveillance?