Supreme Court rules warrants required for cellphone location data

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday imposed limits on the ability of police to obtain cellphone data pinpointing the past location of criminal suspects in a victory for digital privacy advocates along using a setback for law enforcement authorities.

from the 5-4 ruling, the court said police generally need a court-approved warrant to get access to the data, setting a higher legal hurdle than previously existed under federal law. The court said obtaining such data without a warrant through wireless carriers, as police routinely do, amounts to an unreasonable search along with seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

from the ruling written by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, the court decided in favor of Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in several armed robberies at Radio Shack along with T-Mobile stores in Ohio along with Michigan with the help of past cellphone location data in which linked him to the crime scenes.

Roberts was joined by the court’s four liberal justices from the majority. The court’s some other four conservatives dissented.

“We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Roberts said.

The ruling did not address some other emerging digital privacy fights, including whether police need warrants to access real-time cellphone location information to track criminal suspects, Roberts said. The ruling has no bearing on “traditional surveillance techniques” such as security cameras or on data collection for national security purposes, Roberts added.

Roberts said the ruling still allows police to avoid obtaining warrants for some other types of business records, with the court leaving in place precedent on in which issue. Police could also avoid obtaining warrants in emergency situations, Roberts said.

The high court endorsed the arguments made by Carpenter’s lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, who said in which police needed “probable cause,” along with therefore a warrant, to avoid a Fourth Amendment violation.

The case underscored the rising concerns among privacy advocates about the government’s ability to obtain an ever-growing amount of personal data. During arguments from the case in December, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined Roberts from the ruling, had alluded to fears of “Big Brother,” the all-seeing leader in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”

Friday’s ruling was the third in recent years in which the court has resolved major cases on how criminal law applies to brand new technology, on each occasion ruling against law enforcement. In 2014, This kind of required police in most instances to obtain a warrant to search a cellphone’s contents when its user will be arrested. In 2012, This kind of decided in which a warrant will be needed to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle.

Police helped establish in which Carpenter was near the scene of the robberies by securing through his cellphone carrier his past “cell site location information” in which tracks which cellphone towers relay calls. His bid to suppress the evidence failed along with he was convicted of six robbery counts.

The U.S. Justice Department had argued in which probable cause should not be required to obtain customer records under a 1986 federal law called the Stored Communications Act. Instead, This kind of argued for a lower standard – in which prosecutors show only in which there are “reasonable grounds” for the records along with in which they are “relevant along with material” to an investigation.

from the ruling, Roberts said the government’s argument “fails to contend with the seismic shifts in digital technology in which made possible the tracking of not only Carpenter’s location yet also everyone else’s.”

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a dissenting opinion in which the ruling could put “criminal investigations at serious risk in serious cases, often when law enforcement seeks to prevent the threat of violent crimes.”

The decision was issued during a time of rising concern over surveillance practices of law enforcement along with intelligence agencies along with whether companies like wireless carriers care about customer privacy rights. The big four wireless carriers—Verizon Communications, AT&T, T-Mobile US along with Sprint—receive tens of thousands of these requests yearly through law enforcement.

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