Monday, July 9, 2018

Warrant needed for cell location info, SCOTUS rules

Carpenter v. United States Decision Strengthens Digital Privacy | WIRED - Louise Matsakis:

June 22, 2018 - "In a highly anticipated decision released [June 22], the US Supreme Court ... decided in Carpenter v. United States that the government generally needs a warrant in order to access cell site location information [CSLI], which is automatically generated whenever a mobile phone connects to a cell tower and is stored by wireless carriers for years....

"'We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,' Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. 'In light of the deeply revealing nature of CSLI, its depth, breadth, and comprehensive reach, and the inescapable and automatic nature of its collection, the fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection.'

"Roberts was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissented....

"At issue was an antiquated legal principle called the third-party doctrine, which ... comes from United States v. Miller, a 1976 case in which the court ruled that law enforcement doesn't need a warrant in order to access bank records because 'the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party.' Three years later, in 1979, the court ruled ... that the third-party doctrine also extends to call records collected by phone companies.

"But on Friday, the Supreme Court said that cell site location information is a 'qualitatively different category” of information. CSLI allows law enforcement to paint a nearly complete picture of Americans' movements. Last year, AT&T and Verizon jointly received nearly 125,000 requests from law enforcement for CSLI data, according to their transparency reports. Law enforcement officials will now only be able to make such requests after obtaining a warrant, which will require them to demonstrate probable cause....

"The court declined to decide on whether law enforcement seeking a smaller window of records — fewer than seven days ... constitutes a Fourth Amendment search. The opinion also allows for exceptions for emergencies, like 'bomb threats, active shootings, and child abductions.'

"Carpenter v. United States began in December of 2010, when a series of robberies hit Michigan and neighboring Ohio.... Timothy Carpenter, who was later convicted of committing several of the robberies and sentenced to 116 years in prison ... argued that obtaining the records constituted a Fourth Amendment search, and therefore the police should have needed a warrant. His motion was denied, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the case. The Supreme Court agreed to hear it last year....

"Fourteen of the largest US tech companies — including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft — filed a brief in support of updating the Fourth Amendment for the digital era. It was technically not filed in support of either party, but largely backed Carpenter's position. The cohort even included Verizon, which cooperated with the National Security Agency as part of its broad bulk surveillance programs for years."

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