Abstract

This comment explores how broader shifts in Fourth Amendment doctrine may affect the government's collection of Cell Site Location Information (CSLI) moving forward. It consists of three parts. Part I examines the technological underpinnings of cellular networks. The issue is frequently litigated, but few in the legal community have a real grasp on the technology. A nuanced understanding of the technology is crucial when examining the accuracy of CSLI or how the third-party doctrine ought to apply. This comment consolidates and simplifies the technical workings of cellular networks to enable better and more informed answers. Last, drawing on this understanding, Part I explores the generation, relative accuracy, and collection of CSLI.

Part II examines the law with regards to CSLI. It begins with the statute governing CSLI collection and then assesses the Supreme Court precedent relevant to CSLI litigation: namely the third-party doctrine and cases dealing with physical location tracking. Part II will also examine United States v. Jones, Riley v. California, and their potential impact on the field. Last, it consolidates the five circuit court opinions to address CSLI.

Part III utilizes a more nuanced understanding of cell phone technology in applying the third-party doctrine. In doing so, two propositions become immediately evident. First, the superficial understanding of cell phone technology has led to inaccurate decisions on both sides of the CSLI debate. In particular, there is a critical, yet overlooked, distinction between user-generated and non-user-generated CSLI information due to the way that CSLI information is created in cellular networks.

Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Date

2017