WASHINGTON - The Justice Department does not have to turn over information on cases involving warrantless cellphone tracking if the cases ended without a defendant's conviction, a divided federal appeals court ruled Friday in upholding privacy protections for people acquitted of crimes.
The ruling came in a public records lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had requested information on federal cases in which law enforcement had obtained cellphone tracking data without a warrant to track a user's whereabouts.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had previously held that the Justice Department was obligated under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose case names and docket numbers for warrantless cellphone tracking prosecutions that ended with a conviction. But in a separate 2-1 decision Friday, a three-judge panel of the court said defendants who have been acquitted or who have had charges against them dropped enjoy extra privacy protections that outweigh the public benefit in disclosing that information.
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