The police will no longer be able to access cell phone location data without a warrant. It's a decision that the US Supreme Court has made today, in a victory for privacy advocates. Decision 5-4 (.pdf) makes the location of mobile telephony a protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, as provided for in the fourth amendment to the Constitution.
The underlying case involved a man named Timothy Carpenter, who had been found guilty of armed robbery in part by using the location history of mobile phones that he had placed on the crime scene. At trial, Carpenter's lawyers argued that the whereabouts evidence should have been prohibited because it had been obtained without a warrant. In dismissing the motion to remove the evidence, the trial and appeal courts stated that "Carpenter did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information collected by the FBI because He shared this information with his wireless service providers. "
Unlawfully obtained evidence is supposed to be excluded in criminal trials, regardless of the actual guilt of the defendant. The reason is to create structural disincentives for the police to violate people's rights or break the law by trying to apprehend criminals.
The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Mr. Roberts, issued the opinion, which was joined by moderate and liberal judges Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The remaining Conservatives were all dissidents. Roberts stated that "requests for cell site records lie at the intersection of two case lines." One focused on "the expectation of privacy in one's physical place and its movements. " and what he shares with others. "
The court ruled that a person has an expectation of privacy in his physical place, even in the public sphere. This was true despite the fact that Carpenter unknowingly shared his location with his mobile operator (by default). The Court stated:
We refuse to grant the state unlimited access to the database of a wireless location service provider physical location information. In light of [cell-site location information] 's profoundly revealing nature of its depth, breadth and overall scope, and the inevitability and automatic nature of its collection, the fact that such information is collected by a third party does not make it less worthy of Fourth Amendment to Protection. The government's acquisition of the cell site's archives was a search carried out under this amendment.
The right-wing panel argued that sharing location information with a wireless service provider did not differ from sharing business documents with a third party, such as a bank or other commercial enterprise, that is 39, did not trigger the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
The decision is very consequent and rejects the encroachment of the "surveillance state". However, the Court added, there could be exceptions in the case of emergency (eg, permit