MA: Cell “tower dumps” require SW on PC

Cell “tower dump” of all numbers connected to it requires a search warrant issued on probable cause. Here it was lacking. Commonwealth v. Perry, 2022 Mass. LEXIS 151 (Apr. 1, 2022):

As law enforcement capabilities continue to develop in the wake of advancing technology, so too must our constitutional jurisprudence. To this end, we must grapple with the constitutional implications of “tower dumps,” a relatively novel law enforcement tool that provides investigators with the cell site location information (CSLI) for all devices that connected to specific cell towers during a particular time frame.

Here, the Commonwealth obtained search warrants for seven tower dumps, corresponding to the locations of six robberies and an attempted robbery that resulted in a homicide, all of which investigators believed to have been committed by the same individual. After analyzing the information contained in the tower dumps, investigators determined that the defendant had been near the scenes of two of the crimes. The defendant subsequently was charged with the robberies and the homicide, and he moved to suppress all evidence obtained from the tower dumps as the fruits of an unconstitutional search. A Superior Court judge denied the motion, and the defendant filed an application in the county court seeking leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal; the single justice reserved and reported the case to the full court.

The defendant argues that the Commonwealth’s use of the tower dumps intruded upon his reasonable expectation of privacy, and therefore effectuated a search under the Federal and State Constitutions. He also contends that search warrants for tower dumps are per se unconstitutional because they necessarily lack particularity. In addition, the defendant asserts that, here, the warrants were not supported by probable cause.

We agree that the government’s use of the seven tower dumps was an intrusion upon the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy, and therefore constituted a search under art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. We do not agree, however, that warrants for tower dumps are per se unconstitutional. Accordingly, investigators may use tower dumps so long as they comply with the warrant requirements of art. 14.

Here, the second of the two search warrants was sufficiently particular and supported by probable cause, and therefore the use of the information obtained from it does not offend the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The first warrant, however, was not supported by probable cause, and accordingly, any evidence obtained as a result of it must be suppressed.

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