Technology companies across the country receive requests from law enforcement agencies for cell phone location information near the scenes of crimes. These requests rely on the traditional warrant process and are known as geofence warrants, or reverse location search warrants. By obtaining location information, law enforcement can identify potential suspects or persons of interest who were near the scene of a crime when they have no leads. But the use of this investigative technique is controversial, as it threatens to intrude upon the privacy of innocent bystanders who had the misfortune of being nearby when the crime took place. Innocent bystanders are swept up in a geofence warrant because the warrant seeks information about all devices within a certain area at a certain time, instead of a more traditional search warrant, which focuses on a specific individual.
The Washington Constitution provides heightened individual privacy protections compared to what the Constitution of the United States affords. As a result, some law enforcement techniques may be allowable under the federal constitution but forbidden within Washington under the Washington Constitution. This Comment considers whether geofence warrants are compatible with the Washington Constitution and recommends a framework for courts in Washington to adopt when reviewing a geofence warrant request. Alternatively, this Comment calls on the Washington State Legislature to regulate the use of geofence warrants.
Gone Fishing: Casting a Wide Net Using Geofence Warrants,
98 Wash. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wlr/vol98/iss1/11