US justices adopt digital-age privacy rules to track cellphones

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The Supreme Court ruled Friday in a 5-4 vote that cell phone location data is protected by the Fourth Amendment. "The government argued that by "sharing" information about his location with his cell phone company, the defendant had lost any expectation of privacy, but the Court rejects that argument, finding that the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy and that a warrant was required to access information about his location derived from cell towers". Cell tower records spanning 127 days and that investigators got without a warrant bolstered the case against Carpenter.

"Today's decision rightly recognizes the need to protect the highly sensitive location data from our cell phones, but it also provides a path forward for safeguarding other sensitive digital information in future cases - from our emails, smart home appliances, and technology that is yet to be invented". The Supreme Court said yes, but stressed that its decision is narrow.

Today's ruling separated mobile devices from earlier case law, which was predominately cited in cases surrounding the acquisition of financial records (United States v. Miller 425 US 435 1976) or phone numbers (Smith v. Maryland 442 USA 735 1979), according to a report by Motherboard from 2016. The Trump administration said the lower court decisions should be upheld.

"This is a groundbreaking victory for Americans' privacy rights in the digital age".

"We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier's database of physical location information", said the Supreme Court as part of its ruling. "What's happened is our lives are much more intertwined around cell phones today".

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"The Supreme Court has given privacy law an update that it has badly needed for many years, finally bringing it in line with the realities of modern life", ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court in recent years has acknowledged technology's effects on privacy. The decision is also not a blanket requirement for a search warrant; Chief Justice Roberts leaves open the door for warrantless searches in cases of "bomb threats, active shootings, and child abductions". Other items people carry with them may be looked at without a warrant, after an arrest. On Friday, he returned to the metaphor to note that a phone "faithfully follows its owner beyond public thoroughfares and into private residences, doctor's offices, political headquarters, and other potentially revealing locales".

The ruling isn't without limits however, as Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that the government will still be able to subpoena cell records in the "overwhelming majority of investigations".

This decision is the result of the Carpenter vs. In a string of Radio Shack robberies, courts convicted Timothy Carpenter of the crime based on evidence obtained from is cellular provider. There also is other evidence implicating Carpenter that might be sufficient to sustain his conviction.

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