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The rules governing how police obtain and use data from cellphones is a target on the move, as state legislatures act to protect residents' privacy and real-life criminal cases wend their way through state and federal courts.

Consider New Jersey, where the state's Supreme Court ruled this summer that individuals' privacy rights do extend to cellphone data. The Jersey ruling arose from a string of 2006 burglaries in Middletown.

Police, hunting down suspect Thomas Earls, went to his wireless service provider T-Mobile three times in one night asking the company to give them the location of the cellphone towers that the man's mobile phone was connecting to at the time. They didn't get a warrant. In its ruling, the New Jersey high court said cellphones have become "an indispensable part of modern life" and users do not intend for their location information to be shared with authorities or others.

MORE: Cellphone data spying: It's not just the NSA

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Location data available from cellphone use today is far more precise than it was even at the time of that case, the court noted. "Viewed from the perspective of a reasonable expectation of privacy, what was problematic in 2006 is plainly invasive today," the New Jersey justices wrote.

The National Security Agency isn't the only government entity secretly collecting data from people's cellphones. Police are increasingly scooping it up, too. VPC

Other court rules have made different rulings about the level of privacy afforded to cellphone data. Lawmakers in various states are starting to weigh in. Montana and Maine this year passed state laws requiring police demonstrate probable cause and get a search warrant to access some cellphone data, as they would to search a person's house or car. Similar legislation stalled in Texas and California, though the topic is expected to come up again in both states. At least eight other states are considering similar laws. Scrutiny has also been applied at the city and county level.

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