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After losing GPS-tracking case at high court, FBI goes after warrantless cell-site location data

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Antoine Jones, a Washington D.C. nightclub owner accused of running a major cocaine ring, won a case against the FBI back in January — a landmark ruling that required the government to get a warrant when using GPS tracking devices on cars. (Jones was arrested in January of 2008 after the FBI tracked his Jeep for 24 hours a day using a GPS tracker, without a warrant.) But federal prosecutors aren't ready to give up on their quest to put Jones behind bars, and as Wired reports, a US District Judge for the District of Columbia just cleared the way for the US to use warrantless cell-tower location records in a retrial of United States v. Antoine Jones. Jones' lawyers argue that law enforcement still should have obtained a probable cause warrant for cell location data, accusing the government of trying to accomplish the same thing it tried to do with suppressed GPS data.

But District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle set aside the 4th Amendment argument that helped Jones win his first case, writing in her ruling that other judges have allowed law enforcement agents to use historical cell-site data using a court order and not a warrant. Prosecutors are now cleared to use Jones' phone location records, which were obtained in 2005 before the GPS ruling took effect, though Judge Huvelle says that the "third party doctrine," which allows the government to obtain some electronic records shared by consumers with companies without warrants, could be taken up by the Supreme Court in the future. Meanwhile, as the Legal Times reports, Jones remains in federal custody and will stand trial again in January.