A Warrant Is Necessary to View Cell Phone Data After Supreme Court Ruling | Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys
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A Warrant Is Necessary to View Cell Phone Data After Supreme Court Ruling

Law enforcement agencies need to get a search warrant before obtaining your cell phone location data, according to a June ruling by the United States Supreme Court. The ruling, which is now binding law in all 50 states, extended people’s reasonable expectation of privacy to their cell phone location data.

Civil rights advocacy groups, such as the ACLU support the ruling. In fact, ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler stated, “The government can no longer claim that the mere act of using technology eliminates the Fourth Amendment’s protections.”

If you or a loved one was charged with a crime, it is essential to understand that you have rights. Our Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can help protect your rights and fight for you. Contact us today at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a free consultation.

Police Used Wireless Phone Location Data to Solve Robberies

Third party wireless service providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile capture and store location data of all of its users for legitimate business purposes. But, when aggregated, this data can show the police exactly where, when, and with whom each user has been. This data often reaches years into the past, and up until recently, the police did not need a warrant to search it.

Authorities used just this sort of data to solve a string of Radio Shack and T-Mobile store robberies that occurred in Ohio and Michigan between December 2010 and March 2011. They obtained data from one suspect, Timothy Carpenter, that revealed his precise location over a 127-day period. At trial, this data was used as evidence to convict Carpenter, who was sentenced to 116 years in prison.

Carpenter’s legal team appealed the verdict, but the Federal appeals court ruled against him. The appeals court made the correct ruling based on the law at the time: the Stored Communications Act of 1986. This law allows police enforcement to obtain phone records after showing reasonable grounds that the information aids their investigation.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court had held in an earlier case that information voluntarily given to third parties, such as phone service providers, was not subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Where a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the authorities are under no obligation to obtain a warrant.

The Supreme Court Changed the Law to Meet Today’s Privacy Challenges

Carpenter appealed again to the Supreme Court, convincing them that he did, in fact, have an expectation to privacy with regards to his wireless service provider records. The court’s position on information provided to third parties needed to change in light of today’s technology and the many challenges it poses to our privacy.

Justice Roberts, who authored the majority opinion, stated, “The time-stamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations.” He added, “These location records hold for many Americans the ‘privacies of life.’”

Traditionally, the court has recognized that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and places of business. That’s why the police generally need a warrant to enter these places. As technology changes, the court has had to determine when and where this expectation of privacy ends. For example, people in cars have a lessened expectation of privacy, which is why the police do not need a warrant to search your vehicle. Carpenter vs. the United States is a landmark ruling because the court has shown its willingness to recognize an expectation of privacy in the digital realm.

Contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC For Help With Your Case

At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC we closely follow legal developments that could affect the cases of our clients. One of the most powerful tools at the disposition of your Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney is asking for the removal of evidence that was obtained in violation of your right to privacy, which is protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. If you or a family member is facing criminal charges, contact us today at (412) 281-2146 for a free and confidential consultation.

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