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Supreme Court Weighs Privacy Rights in Digital Age in Pivotal Cellphone Case

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USA Today covers the upcoming argument of Carpenter v. United States.

Timothy Carpenter's mistake in the armed robberies of cellphone stores in Michigan and Ohio may have been his decision to carry a cellphone.

To obtain Carpenter's conviction and lengthy prison sentence, police relied on data obtained without a warrant from wireless carriers revealing where he had been over a 127-day period. Courts upheld the search of cell tower records under the theory that people who give information to third parties have no expectation of privacy.

But if that's the case, privacy groups warn, what about email and text messages, social media communications and intimate photos? What about Internet browsing histories and WebMD medical queries, or books, groceries and drugs bought online? What about today's "Internet of Things" — Fitbits and medical devices, cameras and security systems, Google Home and Siri?

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Forty-two scholars of criminal procedure and privacy filed court papers lambasting continued use of the third-party doctrine in the digital age. "Smartphones, smart homes, smart cars, and smart medical devices connected through the Internet of Things are only 'smart' because of third-party interconnectivity," they wrote.

And the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute warned that the records available through third parties "can reveal excruciatingly intimate details about physical and mental health, as well as marital and family relations. They reflect each American’s beliefs, thoughts, emotions, sensations, and relationships."

Read the full article at USA Today.