Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant To Track Location Data From Phones

man using cell phone

The Supreme Court handed a major victory to privacy-rights advocates in a 5-4 ruling that states law enforcement agencies need a warrant to collect location data from phone companies. The ruling reversed and remanded a lower court ruling that found police did not need a warrant to obtain the data from phone companies.

Justice John Roberts was the deciding vote and penned the majority opinion writing that the "fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection."

“We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” he wrote. “The fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection. The Government’s acquisition of the cell-site records here was a search under that Amendment.”

He went on to point out that the "Government's position fails to contend with the seismic shifts in digital technology."

"The Government's position fails to contend with the seismic shifts in digital technology that made possible the tracking of not only Carpenter's location but also everyone else's, not for a short period but for years and years."

Writing the dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that the "case should be resolved by interpreting accepted property principles" and that "a court-authorized subpoena to a third party to disclose information it alone owned and controlled," should be enough to "resolve this case."

“This case should be resolved by interpreting accepted property principles as the baseline for reasonable expectations of privacy,” he added. “Here the government did not search anything over which Carpenter could assert ownership or control. Instead, it issued a court-authorized subpoena to a third party to disclose information it alone owned and controlled. That should suffice to resolve this case.”

Photo: Getty Images

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