Warrantless Cellphone Tracking. Is it a 4th Amendment Violation? Supreme Court hearing on Cell Phone Tracking, what you need to know

by Spike Bowan  |  published on June 6, 2017

The United States Supreme Court agreed on Monday, June 5th, 2017; to decide whether the government needs a warrant to obtain information from cellphone companies showing their customers’ locations.

The case, Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402, concerns historical data held by cellphone companies that shows users’ movements over time and could, for instance, place them at the scene of a crime.

As Reuters notes:

“The case reaches the high court amid growing scrutiny of the surveillance practices of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies amid concern among lawmakers across the political spectrum about civil liberties and police evading warrant requirements.

The legal fight has raised questions about how much companies protect the privacy rights of their customers. The big four wireless carriers, Verizon Communications Inc(VZ.N), AT&T Inc(T.N), T-Mobile US Inc(TMUS.O) and Sprint Corp(S.N), receive tens of thousands of requests a year from law enforcement for what is known as “cell site location information,” or CSLI. The requests are routinely granted.”

The information that law enforcement agencies can obtain from wireless carriers shows which local cellphone towers users connect to at the time they make calls. Police can use historical data to determine if a suspect was near a crime scene or real-time data to track a suspect.

Conservative supporters of the Patriot Act are defending the ability for law enforcement to utilize such advantages not just for the aid it offers in solving horrendous crimes, but also as a matter of National Security. With the increase in terror attacks on a global scale, London, Paris, Germany; the growing concern for security is a real issue that needs to be addressed.

Civil liberties lawyers and more liberal and Libertarian viewpoints against the practice of law enforcement using this cellular advantage, have said that police need “probable cause,” and therefore a warrant, to avoid constitutionally unreasonable searches. According to latest statistics posted by NBC News, up to 95% of Americans own a cell phone, raising concerns of privacy in what is widely viewed as an overly monitored society.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor remarked in the 2012 case of United States v. Jones, “people disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers…. I would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to Fourth Amendment protection.”

The SCOTUS Justices agreed to hear the appeal of a man convicted in a series of armed robberies in Ohio and Michigan with the help of prior cellphone location data who contends that without a warrant from a court such data amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

“Police helped establish that the man at the center of the case, Timothy Carpenter, was near the scene of the robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores by securing past “cell site location information” from his cellphone carrier that tracked which local cellphone towers relayed his calls.

The case reaches the high court amid growing scrutiny of the surveillance practices of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies amid concern among lawmakers across the political spectrum about civil liberties and police evading warrant requirements.

The legal fight has raised questions about how much companies protect the privacy rights of their customers. The big four wireless carriers, Verizon Communications Inc(VZ.N), AT&T Inc(T.N), T-Mobile US Inc(TMUS.O) and Sprint Corp(S.N), receive tens of thousands of requests a year from law enforcement for what is known as “cell site location information,” or CSLI. The requests are routinely granted.”

The ACLU, representing Carpenter, said the reasoning of that decades-old case shouldn’t apply in the digital age, because the court’s earlier decision involved telephones that were hard-wired into the wall and didn’t move. Getting cell phone tower location, by contrast, allows the police to reconstruct a person’s movements and should require a search warrant.

The SCOTUS will hear the case this Fall, and the Supreme Court has been gradually expanding protections for digital privacy, declaring that it’s a search when police attach a GPS tracker to a person’s car, therefore ruling that police need a search warrant to search a cell phone carried by a suspect.

Is the use of cellular records and geo-tracking a violation of the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights? This is what the Justices of the SCOTUS will have to decide come this fall.  Please share your thoughts with us.

No comments yet - you can be the first!

Comments are closed.

Do you Love your country but hate your government?

Join your fellow Libertarians who seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others. Join over 500,000 Americans who get their daily dose of minimal government and maximum freedom with The New Liberty Movement.

We know how important your privacy is and your information is SAFE with us. We’ll never sell
your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time directly from your inbox.
View our full privacy policy.