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Interview with Our National Chair on Geofence Warrants

Restore The Fourth’s National Chair, Alex Marthews, was recently interviewed for an article in Real Clear Investigations. In “Just the Facts on ‘Geofencing,’ the Intrusive, App-Based ‘Dragnet’ That Sgt. Joe Friday Never Dreamed Of,” Maggie MacFarland Phillips relied on our expertise to explain the dangers of geofence warrants, and the best way to balance concerns for public health and civil liberties.

Calvary Chapel in San Jose, CA is suing Santa Clara County for its use of location data to surveil attendees. Location data was used to levy fines against Chapel attendees for violating COVID-19 restrictions against public gatherings. A private company sold this information to the government of Santa Clara County. This is an issue of geofencing -when the government searches large geographic areas to track the location of cellphone users within a certain time frame.

Alex provided context and an explanation for geofencing within the context of the Fourth Amendment:

“We are in the space between the emergence of this technological practice and courts having ruled on its constitutionality,” said Alex Marthews, national chair for Restore the 4th, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans’ rights against “unreasonable search and seizure.” 

“There is very significant debate right now whether it is possible for a geofence warrant to meet the Fourth Amendment burden of particularity,” said Alex Marthews, referring to the legal principle that warrants must be specific to the individual, property, and place in order to be constitutional.

Marthews, who describes himself as someone who took “the threat of the peak of the current pandemic as having been a very serious one,” said government authorities at the time should nevertheless have recognized ‘the unique constitutional risks” that come with searching houses of worship and curtailing the free exercise of religion, “even in the context of a pandemic.”