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iPhones and E-Discovery: Location Data in a Court of Law
Posted in Litigation

Do you own an iPhone?  If so, it may be possible for opposing parties, competitors, ex-spouses, or even the government to obtain information about where you were on a given date and time. 

This is possible because, ever since GPS-enabled iPhones were available to the general public, the Apple iOS (operating system) has been storing your unsecured location history.  In fact, this information is now accessible via a free open source utility called the iPhoneTracker, which enables you to scan your Apple OS for the hidden files that are automatically made every time you sync your iPhone (or your GPS-enabled iPad) with your Apple computer. 

Of course, the accumulation of this time and location information can be stopped, but only if you turn off Location Services on your iPhone (thereby disabling your GPS).  Even then, there may still be pre-existing location files hidden on your computer.

The use of location information has obvious implications in criminal investigations (i.e. placing Mr. Smith at the scene of the crime).  However, it also has potentially wide-ranging – and expensive – implications for electronic discovery in civil litigation.  So long as it is potentially relevant to the issues in a case, iPhone location history may be the subject of discovery requests in complex litigation matters.  Creative attorneys may seek this information in order to establish elements of their claims or to disprove key facts (i.e. Mr. Smith did not inspect a defective part because he was not in the factory on the date that he claims he was).  Moreover, the information discovered may be wide-ranging, since iPhones have continuously stored location information since they were first enabled with GPS.  Thus, it may be possible to obtain an hour-by-hour location log of a key witness that goes back for years.     

Apple has taken steps to address the privacy concerns associated with the collection of this data.  In a recently released Q&A on Location Data, Apple explained that the iPhone is “maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location…to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.”  It further noted that a future update to the iOS software will reduce the amount of location data being collected.  Still, for companies that provide their employees with iPhones (or GPS-enabled iPads), these concerns necessitate a review of their mobile device policies, with an eye toward how likely this location information is to be relevant to future matters. If you have questions, please contact the Litigation Practice Group at Bingham Greenebaum Doll.

  • Partner

    Since joining the firm in 2009, Alex has concentrated his practice in the area of complex commercial litigation in federal and state trial and appellate courts. Among his experience, Alex has litigated disputes involving class ...

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