By Rick Ritter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Do police need a warrant to track your cell phone? It’s a question that’s been at the center of a nationwide debate. After months of controversy, a major decision is made, making the law clear in Maryland.

Rick Ritter breaks down the ruling from one of the highest federal courts.

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The ruling means no search warrant is needed to track your cell phone. Just a court order clears the way for police to obtain your cell phone information if it’s needed for an investigation.

From a simple call to a text, even just walking around on your phone. It’s cell data that’s now easier for police to obtain if you’re a prime suspect.

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling Tuesday stating police do not need a search warrant to obtain cell tower location data in Maryland. This, after backlash from the ACLU.

“Police should not be able to turn our phones into tracking devices without getting a warrant from a judge,” said Nathan Wessler, ACLU.

The organization has been worried that months of cell phone data can reveal private details of a person’s life.

The ruling was centered around a Baltimore case back in 2011, when cell phone records led police to their prime suspects in a string of armed robberies. Investigators obtained over 200 days of data from one of their wireless providers, helping tie the duo to the crimes.

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“As a law-abiding citizen, I want my police force to be aggressive, be assertive. I want them to operate within the bounds of the law,” said Fallston Group security expert Rob Weinhold.

Weinhold says it’s a partial win for police.

“Investigators want to streamline information so they can locate these criminals quickly and bring them to justice,” Weinhold said.

Even though they still need to get a court order, there’s no need for a search warrant. That can speed along a criminal process, where time is crucial.

“When you’re looking for an armed, dangerous individual who is clearly a threat to others, every second, every hour counts,” Weinhold said.

US Attorney Rod Rosenstein released a statement saying in part, “Prosecutors can only obtain cell records if a judge finds they are relevant to a criminal investigation…meaning no records…without judicial approval.”

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The appeals court said cell phone users are not protected by the Fourth Amendment because they voluntarily share such data with their service provider. Tuesday’s opinion overturns a 2015 opinion and reduces the likelihood that the Supreme Court will consider the issue.

Rick Ritter