On June 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of digital privacy. In
a 5-4 decision, the justices said law enforcement needs a search warrant
to obtain cellphone location data as evidence for trials, changing the
way how police can use technology to build their cases.
Carpenter. V. United States is the first case regarding phone location
information that the Supreme Court has ruled on. Timothy Carpenter was
convicted in several armed robberies in Ohio and Michigan after law enforcement
obtained his cellphone location history that pinned him to the scenes
of the crimes. Law enforcement pulled together over 127 days’ worth
of data from 12,898 different locations.
The lower courts ruled that cellphone location data isn’t protected
by the Fourth Amendment and, therefore, didn’t require a warrant.
However, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the government’s searches
of Carpenter’s phone records were considered a Fourth Amendment
search since common surveillance law doesn't apply to the digital realm.
The court's liberal justices (all four of them) sided with Roberts.
By contrast, the court’s other four conservatives did not.
This was the third decision that involved privacy in the digital world,
ruling against police each time. In 2014, it ruled that law enforcement
must obtain a warrant to search a person’s cellphone content when
the user is arrested. Two years before that decision, the court said that
a warrant is required to put a GPS tracking device on a vehicle.
For more information about your Fourth Amendment rights,
Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney at
Appel & Morse today.