Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Location Privacy

Police, Regulation, Surveillance

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari to Carpenter v. United States, a case about historical cell phone location data. In question is whether police need a warrant to obtain historical customer location data from cell phone companies. In this case, a group of men committed a series of armed robberies, after which one of the men confessed and provided cell phone numbers for 16 others in the group. Investigators obtained cell site information for Carpenter through a court order under the Stored Communications Act, which required the government to provide evidence of reasonable suspicion, rather than the stricter test of probable cause. Metro PCS then provided 127 days of cell-site records for Carpenter. Lower courts have deferred to the precedent set in the 1979 Smith v. Maryland decision. In that case, the Court ruled that a robbery suspect had no reasonable expectation of privacy for phone numbers dialed, because he had voluntarily provided that information to a third party: the phone company. The third-party doctrine, said the lower courts, allows investigators to retrieve cell phone locations without a warrant.

Will be waiting to see the justices’ arguments and verdict in this appeal!


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