Supreme Court Decision

Personal Rights and the Expectation of Privacy in the Digital Age

From Chesley Brown International

Risk Management

In Major Privacy Case, Court Rules Law Enforcement Must Obtain Warrant To Track Cellphone Data.

 

In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of Carpenter v. United States, the court held in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, that the government violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by accessing historical records containing physical locations of cellphones without a search warrant. Emergencies, such as child abductions and bomb threats, are excluded from the ruling, where the “need to protect threatened individuals, pursue suspects or prevent destruction of evidence” exists. Prior to this case, government entities could obtain cellphone location records by claiming the information was required as part of an investigation.

Chief Justice John G. Robert Jr. wrote “We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information.

In this case, authorities gathered real-time location data over a span of 127 days. The data collected showed Tim Carpenter near each robbery as it occurred. With this data they were able to connect him to a string of robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores, for which he was convicted and sentenced to 116 years in prison.

Almost everyone has a cell phone as a necessary extension of themselves, and phones go everywhere we do. Cell phone data tracks a person’s every move including where they slept, where they go, and which church, if any, they attend.

If unrestricted access were allowed, with the increasing number of cell phone towers and developing cell phone technology, the user’s every action and location could be easily determined within 50 feet - a virtually time-stamped documentation of their every move.

Cell phone data could assist law enforcement in the pursuit, capture and prosecution of terrorists, serial killers, rapists, and other threatening menaces to society. The challenge has been to uphold the Fourth Amendment while also adapting to the technology of the digital age.

Generally, a warrant must now be obtained by authorities for this information.

According to Chief Justice Roberts, the data in one’s cell phone compares to the wearing of an ankle monitor, providing “near perfect surveillance”.

In his opinion, the Constitution must adapt to the evolution of the “vast technological changes”.

You may also feel free to contact us; we are more than happy to assist you in reviewing your company's data security and storage practices. 

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