Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mexican judges: warrantless cell phone tracking is legal

Guadalajara -
In a case of first impression, the full chamber of Mexico's Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has ruled that prosecutors may track a cell phone through the GPS data it emits without first obtaining a judicial warrant.

Judicial ministers found that if criminal investigators are able to present a "minimally plausible case" demonstrating their need for the GPS data, the cell phone service provider must hand it over on a continuing basis, in real time. However, such prosecutorial requests must be confined to serious cases with exigent circumstances, where time is of the essence and lives may be at stake, such as kidnapping, extortion and organized crime offenses, a majority of the 11 member SJC ruled.

The court's vote was 8-3, with the three dissenters arguing the public will be protected only if all such applications for GPS data are first presented to a neutral magistrate, who could grant, deny or modify the request as in the case of any other search warrant proceeding.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) argued against the new warrantless search rules under scrutiny today, claiming they violate guarantees in the country's federal constitution. The rules are part of an omnibus criminal reform package passed by Mexico's federal congress last year.

In a January 2012 case with similar legal issues, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the warrantless tracking of a suspected District of Columbia drug dealer's vehicle was illegal. Reversing the man's convictions and sentence to life imprisonment, the Court harshly criticized government agents who had placed a GPS device on the underside of the vehicle and recorded its movements for a month. That information ultimately led to the seizure of cocaine, but the justices agreed it could not be used as evidence against the suspect because the device had not been judicially authorized.

Dec. 5 - U.N. selects Mexico's Supreme Court for Defense of Human Rights Award

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