SCOTUS to Decide if Cell Site Location Is Protected by Fourth Amendment

July 10, 2017

In recent years, Americans have become more aware of the extent to which the government can seek access to data and records pertaining to their cell phones. In a 2016 study, the Pew Research Center found that 74 percent of Americans say it is “very important” to them that they be in control of who can get information about them. Since 2012, two unanimous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have suggested that the justices are sympathetic to these privacy concerns. In both cases, the court relied on the Fourth Amendment to require that law enforcement use a search warrant to obtain data about a person’s location or the contents of a cell phone.

On June 5, 2017, the court granted certiorari in Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402, a case that will test whether the justices are again willing to break ground in the cell phone privacy context. The court will decide whether the government needs a search warrant to obtain historical records of a suspect’s cell phone location—or whether it may instead do so under the Stored Communication Act (SCA), which requires the government to show only that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records are “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.” 18 U.S.C. §2703(d).

To continue reading Harry Sandick and George LoBiondo's article from the New York Law Journal, please click here.