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Supreme Court weighs privacy rights in digital age in pivotal cellphone case

Citations

USA Today cited the Competitive Enterprise Institute about the dangers to personal freedoms and privacy for third-party information to be available to law enforcement without requiring a warrant first. 

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.

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This week's case focuses not on the contents of Carpenter's phone or his text and voice conversations, but on his whereabouts. When the robberies were committed, data from cell towers identified Carpenter's location within a few miles, often just a few hundred yards. Today, with more than 300,000 cell towers in the United States, the data is even more accurate.

Defenders of the status quo contend that increased convenience and security requires some loss of privacy. "Most Americans understand that there is a necessary diminution of privacy in the digital era and are willing to accept the tradeoff," the National District Attorneys Association said in court papers.

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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