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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 is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to

  • Privacy is dead
  • True.. Damn it and just when I though I could jack off to the weird stuff at random hotels without being followed or watched. Thanks Obama!
  • Damn me too.
  • Privacy is just illusion
  • It doesn't have to be and I am proof. Does it take a lifestyle to maintain it, yes.
  • Privacy is just a myth.
  • Crazy how this stuff pops up on my phone after I watch a documentary on Netflix called "Terms and Conditions May Apply" highlighting this stuff! Check it out if y'all haven't!
  • I have i like watchin documentaries on Netflix
  • MAY need? Read the Constitution... Government DOES need a warrant, PERIOD.
  • The government have been going round the constitution for years. I doubt the govt would even read it. In other words constitution was made to protect those in government not the governed.
  • I believe all laws, regulations, precedents, etc all needs to be reevaluated after 15-20 years... Times are changing all the time... There's gotta be an expiration date on laws just like patents... Lots of the ones from the 80's and further back don't even apply to today's standards...
  • I think ATT will take the smart route like other compainies are doing and not just hand over data anymore. Too many people around the world are not happy with how the agencies of the US govt have done things. Power to the people can and will be reinstated.
  • Agreed... Many US companies have lost millions in revenue with foreign contacts being cancelled over the NSA fiasco...
  • Not if you agreed to it when you signed up for an account with the carriers...a google account...outlook account...etc....
  • So how are we supposed to send and receive emails and get other things done? Pigeon post?
  • Perfect.
  • I don't know why people are so shocked by these laws that been around since Carter. Back in 2007 At&t and Verizon were caught with tapping rooms throught their network for the FBI
  • By law, every data service provider must provide what is referred to as a silver port for the govt. It's essentially a port in which every packet in and out is mirrored to. The govt can capture as needed.... Or all the time.
  • A related article... This talks about him having to accommodate the request at that time, but the reality is that he wasn't aware of the requirement for it to be setup and ready from the moment his ISP began providing service. Its an insane thing... A company I consulted for once pulled out of a metro WAN service because the cost to deliver this functionality alone was over $200k.
  • You could always turn off location data options in setting on most phones??
  • Can't do it in wp8.1. Even if i have my location settings off, my phone records my location everytime i unlock or make a call that little location blip shows up at the top.
  • And that switch is just for the GPS. Cellular triangulation can locate you at anytime (hence you see the location indicator even when GPS is off). I guess WP8.1 depicts cellular triangulation and GPS both with the same indicator. Even dumbphones can be located using triangulation...