Cell phone coverage
Protection from unreasonable search and seizure is a core tenant of our Bill of Rights.
Yet, you might be surprised to know that there’s a large gray area when it comes to the intel you generate from your mobile device.
That may change soon
The US Supreme Court chose to hear an appeal for a case in which the suspect of several armed robberies was convicted based on data about the location of his cellphone. The appeal “contends that without a warrant from a court, such data amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.”
Cellphone carriers can track this data based on which local cell towers relay outbound calls, and they routinely grant requests from authorities for this information.
Legally, law enforcement encounters fewer legal roadblocks as well. Under a provision in the Stored Communications Act from 1986, prosecutors need only show that the records are necessary under “reasonable grounds,” and that the records are “relevant and material” to the investigation.
This is a less stringent standard than probable cause, the traditional legal standard for obtaining property as evidence of a crime.
This lower standard is troubling
Civil liberties groups argue that the 1986 Stored Communications Act had absolutely no clue in the ways which cellphones would eventually be used by present day consumers. So, the case should provide a necessary and more modern standard by which to decide when cellphone users can expect to keep their privacy even if they’ve voluntarily shared data or information with a third party.
If past rulings are any indication, the Supreme Court seems to favor the side of the private citizen over the police force when it came to the use of technology in criminal investigations.
In precedence, a 2012 case mandated that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to track a vehicle using an attached GPS device. In a 2014 case, the court handed down a ruling requiring warrants to search cellphones obtained during an arrest.
Either way, sometime between October and June of next year, we should see this ruling come down.
Given the implications, we know we’ll be tuning in.
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