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Police don't need a warrant to obtain mobile phone location data for a criminal investigation, a US appeals court ruled Tuesday in a case closely watched for digital-era privacy implications.
The case decided by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Virginia is among several pending in the courts on "location privacy," or whether using the digital data violates constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches.
The case, which could still be appealed to the Supreme Court, represents a setback for a coalition of groups fighting for a right to location privacy, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Gun Owners of America and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The judges ruled 12-3 in the case, overturning an earlier three-judge panel's decision in the same circuit that found police violated the rights of the defendants in investigating a series of armed robberies.
Judge Diana Motz, writing for the majority, said a warrant is not needed to get location data because cell phone users "voluntarily" give that data to carriers whenever they make a call or send a text message.
The judge wrote that the constitution's Fourth Amendment, protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures, does not apply in this case, because the phone users have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
"The Fourth Amendment does not protect information voluntarily disclosed to a third party because even a subjective expectation of privacy in such information is not one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable,'" the opinion read.
- Dissenting view -
But Judge James Wynn, in a dissenting opinion, said the majority stretched the view on what is being voluntarily handed over.
"Even if cell phone customers have a vague awareness that their location affects the number of 'bars' on their phone... they surely do not know which cell phone tower their call will be routed through," Wynn wrote.
The dissenting opinion said the authorities went too far by obtaining 221 days of data and some 29,000 location-identifying data points.
"In my view, the sheer volume of data the government acquired here decides this case," Wynn said.
"By acquiring vast quantities of defendants' location information, spanning months, without defendants' consent, the government infringed their reasonable expectations of privacy and thereby engaged in a search. Because that search was warrantless, it violated the Fourth Amendment."
The ruling allows police to obtain location data from cellular carriers with a court order, with a lower standard than a warrant.
The major carriers receive tens of thousands of such requests each year, according to transparency reports.
Such court orders are "much faster, much easier" than warrants which require specific details of likely criminal activity, said Jadzia Butler of the Center For Democracy & Technology, one of the privacy groups participating in the case.
Butler said it was not clear if case would be appealed but said that "this is an incredibly important issue that the Supreme Court should look at."
"I don't think the average member of society expects to be handing over location data every time they take out their cell phone," she said.
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Leftists have long made a sport of blasting neoliberalism, the market-guided economic doctrine championed by the International Monetary Fund, as boosting poverty and inequality.
Now that view is coming from inside the IMF itself. A new assessment from Fund economists suggests the neoliberal approach to creating sustainable growth in developing countries can have its own lasting ill effects.
Their views offer support to legions of critics in countries like Greece and Portugal that have endured tough IMF-designed "austerity" programs to straighten out their finances.
"The benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed," they said in an article in the June edition of the Fund's Finance & Development magazine.
"Instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion."
The authors, three members of the IMF research department, said the traditional approach to helping countries build their economies through tight government spending, privatization, freer trade and open capital flows can have "prominent" costs in terms of greater inequality.
"Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth," they said.
"Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects."
While the three say "there is much to cheer in the neoliberal agenda," they single out two key tenets as problems: removing all restrictions on capital movement; and implementing budget austerity on governments with unsustainable deficits and debt.
The economists acknowledge the great benefits to a developing country of incoming capital.
But they say that freed of constraints, foreign capital can be short-term and capricious, causing great volatility in markets and "raising the odds of a crash."
In 150 cases since 1980 of emerging economies which experienced a sharp surge in capital inflows, 20 percent ended with a financial crisis, they said.
On top of that, financial openness leads to "appreciable" increases in inequality in a country's population, they said.
Austerity policies, which often aim to curb the size of the state, not only "generate substantial welfare costs" but also "hurt demand -- and thus worsen employment and unemployment."
"The costs of the tax increases or expenditure cuts required to bring down the debt may be much larger than the reduced crisis risk engendered by the lower debt."
"In practice, episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output," they added.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo unveiled a plaque Monday in Paris to commemorate the deaths of seven French monks who were kidnapped and beheaded in Algeria during the country's civil war. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the tragedy.