By Quandary Peak Research
In what could arguably be labeled as one of the most consequential Supreme Court terms in decades, one particular case stands out within the realm of technology and privacy: Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402.
This case looms large as the Supreme Court seeks to determine the extent to which cell phone records can be used by law enforcement agencies to charge someone with a crime or to build a case against them. One lawyer working the case called it “one of the most important Fourth Amendment hearings in generations,” which is no stretch of the imagination—the case could ultimately set the standard for law enforcement in the digital era as it examines and debates modern surveillance law. The key detail in this case is whether law enforcement can legally obtain information regarding an individual’s cell phone location data, which is kept by cellphone companies and generally regarded as private.
The plaintiff, Timothy Carpenter, was convicted in multiple armed robberies over a period of two years. A co-conspirator in the case confessed and passed along cell phone numbers to law enforcement from multiple conspirators, including Carpenter’s. The government applied for three different court orders for cell-site records pertaining to the numbers, including “at call origination and at call termination for incoming and outgoing calls” for Carpenter’s phone. This data was used to depict Carpenter’s movements over multiple months, which placed him at ranges of half a mile to two miles from the robberies at the time they occurred. Mr. Carpenter is arguing that prosecutors failed to obtain a warrant for the information, violating his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Recent Supreme Court rulings have limited the ability of law enforcement and government to track potential suspects via cell phones and location data. United States […]