Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Well duh: The Supreme Court today ruled that the police must get a warrant in order to gather cell phone GPS data from anyone’s phone.
In a 5-4 decision on Friday the justices said that police need warrants to gather phone location data as evidence for trials. That reversed and remanded a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Carpenter v. United States is the first case about phone location data that the Supreme Court has ruled on. That makes it a landmark decision regarding how law enforcement agencies can use technology as they build cases. The court heard arguments in the case on Nov. 29.
The dispute dates back to a 2011 robbery in Detroit, after which police gathered months of phone location data from Timothy Carpenter’s phone provider. They pulled together 12,898 different locations from Carpenter, over 127 days.
The legal and privacy concern was that police gathered the four months’ worth of Carpenter’s digital footprints without a warrant. A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled that cellphone location data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure, and therefore didn’t require a warrant.
In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the government’s searches of Carpenter’s phone records were considered a Fourth Amendment search.
That the decision was 5-4 is absurd. The language of the fourth amendment is simple and clear. That there is any doubt about the illegality of the police data gathering here speaks badly on the four justices who dissented.