A Win for Cell Phone Privacy

Supreme Court BuildingLast week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that warrants are generally needed to get access to a person’s cellphone location data over a long period of time  – a definite win for privacy advocates.

Here’s a quick summary of the case and ruling…

Back in 2010 there were a bunch of robberies in the Detroit area. The government used several months of cell phone location data to show that a suspect, Timothy Carpenter, had been near the sites of the robberies while they were occurring. This location data helped convict him, leading to a sentence of over 100 years in jail. The case before the Supreme Court basically argued that the location data should have been protected under the Fourth Amendment (protection against unlawful searches and seizures) and should have been  inadmissible for Carpenter’s trial. 

Arguments for allowing the data to be used were rooted in the idea that location information was being voluntarily shared (because it’s an individual’s choice to use a cell phone,) but the majority ruling felt that an expectation of privacy is reasonable, in part because cell phone usage is such a part of daily life currently, and that technological advances should not be used to take away constitutional rights as they were intended.

The ruling did allow for exceptions depending on the circumstances and of course there were dissenting arguments & an expectation that this will open the door to new litigation around similar cases, but overall this ruling strongly supports the idea of privacy in the digital age and follows the Supreme Court’s trend of protecting rights in this regard.

If you’re interested in reading the actual decision, you can find it here.