Big SCOTUS Decision Over Unreasonable Search with Cell Phone Records


The Supreme Court on Friday decided the government generally needs a warrant if it wants to track an individual’s location through cell phone records over an extended period of time.

The justices’ 5-4 decision marks a big change in how police may obtain cellphone tower records, an important tool in criminal investigations.

Justice Roberts joined the four liberal justices.

The U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of Timothy Carpenter, finding that the government violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches when it collected 127 days’ worth of his cell phone location records without obtaining a warrant. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed an amicus brief in support of Carpenter in this case. You can read it here.

CEI research fellow and regulatory counsel Ryan Radia (bio) said the following about the court’s ruling:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a victory for Americans’ privacy, as the court recognized that the government conducts a search when it tracks our cell phone location history. The court reversed the Sixth Circuit, ruling that Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was convicted based on cell phone tracking data collected by law enforcement without a search warrant. Now, when the government wants to force a mobile carrier to hand over a week or more of a person’s location information, it must first obtain a search warrant based upon a showing of probable cause.

“Although the court’s opinion was narrowly crafted to address the particular facts in this case, its decision underscores the court’s willingness to apply rigorous scrutiny to governmental surveillance involving new technologies. In the United States, the Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, and Fourth Amendment protection should apply to private information held on or collected through our personal devices.”

>> Read CEI’s amicus brief in Carpenter v. United States here.

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