Victory for Privacy: Supreme Court Says Cell Phone Location Records Protected Under Fourth Amendment

8 01 2020

June 22, 2018
In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment protects location records generated by mobile phones. The government in Carpenter v. United States had obtained more than 6 months of location records without a warrant. EPIC filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in Carpenter, signed by thirty-six technical experts and legal scholars, urging the Court to recognize that the “world has changed since Smith v. Maryland” was decided. EPIC argued that “Cell phones are now as necessary to the life of Americans as they are ubiquitous” and that users expect their location data will remain private. The Court agreed, in a decision by the Chief Justice, emphasizing the importance of protecting privacy as technology advances: “As technology has enhanced the Government’s capacity to encroach upon areas normally guarded from inquisitive eyes, this Court has sought to ‘assure[ ] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.'” The Court held that “an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through” a cell phone. Dissenting opinions were filed by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.

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