In an age of advancing technologies, the U.S. Supreme Court is defining Fourth Amendment rights case by case. In what is seen as the most important privacy case of the digital era, CARPENTER v. UNITED STATES , the Court ruled that the government cannot force cellphone companies to provide users’ locations over significant periods of time without a warrant.
Cellphone Records Result in Conviction
The case involves an investigation into a string of armed robberies in Ohio and Michigan, where the police ordered a cell phone company to release data on a suspect’s activity without a warrant. Of course, with today’s technology following our every movement, the data supplied was a virtual treasure trove of information spanning months leading to the suspect’s arrest and eventual conviction.
Third Party Doctrine and Right to Privacy
This is nothing out of other ordinary for police. For years, they have been justified to search call records, bank statements and even garbage set out on the curb without a warrant under the legal presumption of third party doctrine. As it goes, once you share your information with a third party, you forfeit your right to privacy. The doctrine is predicated on the idea that if you want something to remain private, then don’t share it – keep it in your 1970’s lock box at home.
However, these days, the notion of keeping something to yourself has been turned on its ear because nearly everything we do today requires sharing sensitive information with a third party – phone companies ping our location to provide service, the internet catalogs the pages we visit, credit cards track purchases in real time and, so on and so forth, leaving everyone’s private information up for grabs by law enforcement when the doctrine is applied.
Cell Phone Records in a Police Investigation
In the recent ruling, the right to privacy in the modern era was not lost on the Supreme Court, at least when it comes to cellphone records at issue in the case. The court effectively narrowed the scope of what information can be obtained without a warrant. In the 5-4 decision the Chief Justice rejected the government’s effort to apply the third party doctrine to cellphone location records, which he said are “not shared in any ordinary sense of that word”. Dissenters warn that the Court’s decision will likely result in a “blizzard of litigation” over the application of the Fourth Amendment to other new technologies – a virtual battleground in the fight for privacy.
Contact an Experienced Waukesha Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help
If you are being investigated, or have been charged with a crime, contact the criminal defense Law Offices of Andrew C. Ladd for immediate assistance.