NJ Prosecutors Attempt to Change Law Requiring Warrant to Obtain Cell Phone Records

December 10, 2014 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

Cell phones are a way of life for most Americans.  As such, a possible change as reported in the Asbury Park Press  to the privacy laws regarding these devices has the potential to affect many of us.

Hand holding cell phone.

The NJ Supreme Court is set to decide if warrants will still be required for authorities to obtain cell phone records or if Grand Jury subpoenas will be sufficient. (Photo Source: Wikipedia)

Presently, in order to obtain cell phone records, our State Supreme Court requires police officers to first obtain a warrant from a Judge, which must be supported with probable cause that a crime was committed or will be committed. This requirement stems from the 1982 ruling of State v. Hunt which held that individuals have a privacy interest in their phone records, and seizure of such information can “pose significant dangers to political liberty.”

A case is currently being brought before the court that will challenge this law.  State v. Lunsford, will litigate whether prosecutors are allowed to use a grand jury subpoena rather than a communications data warrant to obtain cell phone records. As to be expected, there are valid arguments on both sides whether this potential change is justified.

Arguments in favor of this change include:

  • Increasing the speed of investigations can reduce costs, as well as greatly increase security.
  • An hour can mean the difference between saving a life and losing a life.  This is especially true in cases such as kidnapping or terrorism.
  • Grand Jury subpoenas are, the argument goes, sufficient to protect individual privacy rights.

Arguments against allowing Grand Jury subpoenas from substituting for warrants are likewise compelling.  These include:

  • As Grand Jury proceedings are sealed if no charges are brought, prosecutors can bring a case to the grand jury without the individual knowing what information was collected.
  • Circumventing the warrant requirement erodes privacy. As a significant portion of our life is contained in our phone history, the removal of any of our protections has important privacy concerns.
  • Without the probable cause requirement, police can go after your records for any reason.

Whatever side of the argument you favor, it is apparent that our rights to privacy are diminishing. We as a society must decide where to draw the line, and how to best balance the importance of effective law enforcement with the value of our right to privacy.

If you have been cited for a violation, the dedicated staff of The Rosenblum Law Firm will be able to provide you with the legal representation you deserve. Call us for a free consultation at 888-815-3649.