Carpenter v. United States [SCOTUSbrief]
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Carpenter v. United States [SCOTUSbrief]

There were a sequence of robberies in metro
Detroit, Michigan and Northern Ohio, and the police arrested some people, one of whom gave
the phone number belonging to Mr. Carpenter. As it happened, when they requested the records
from T-Mobile and MetroPCS, two cell phone companies, those records revealed that Mr.
Carpenter was in the vicinity of the banks that had been robbed. And on that basis, they are convicted. And now, Carpenter challenges police acquisition
of that evidence of those location records as a fourth amendment violation. The word “privacy” doesn’t actually appear in
the Constitution. However, there are certain rights that we
have that we now consider to be privacy rights. The fourth amendment, which is at issue in
this Carpenter case is one of them because the fourth amendment says that people have
the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. The government can’t just go into your home
and ransack it in, in a fishing expedition to look for crimes. And as technology has developed, those protections
have evolved. The Supreme Court has held that if you disclose
certain data or information to a third party, like your bank, like the phone company, then
that information is no longer private and no longer protected by the fourth amendment. The Stored Communications Act of 1986 allows
phone companies to disclose records when the government provides them with specific and
articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records are relevant
and material to an ongoing criminal investigation. And so if the police or the FBI ask that record
keeper, then they can get that without a warrant. So here, in the Carpenter case, the government
simply asked the cell providers for that historical cell location data, and Mr. Carpenter says,
“That violates the fourth amendment, even if it complies with that Federal Statute,
the government really should get a warrant.” Carpenter’s strongest argument is that he
still has a privacy interest in the data that he provides to his cell phone company. It’s not that he decides that, “Well, I don’t
care who knows about where I am based on my cell phone information,” it’s that he knows
that in the modern world, you can’t really go about your business, or at least not have
a smartphone, without releasing this data to your cell phone company. And therefore, the government ought to have
probable cause, ought to have a warrant in, in order to search it, not less than it would
need a warrant to search your day planner or your phone call. The best argument for the United States is
that under the third-party doctrine, information that you reveal to third parties is, in effect,
public. That police do not need a warrant, uh, should
not need a warrant to look at it, to seize it, to search it. This case will establish the basic law of
digital privacy going forward. The amount of data that people now put on
their phone is, uh, is mind-boggling. Think about it. Our health records are on our phone, our bank
data records, our text messages with our closest friends and neighbors, and paramours, and spouses,
and other romantic partners. Photographs, music, diaries, Facebook, Twitter account. So, this little device has the potential of
revolutionizing constitutional jurisprudence about privacy rights simply because we have
so much private or sensitive material on it.


  • dajadynasty

    Hi. This is my 1st cousin and really like my brother. It was not BANKS it was radio shacks for cell phones. Further, the crime commited may be punishable but he was not the ring leader and he does not deserve a 116 year sentence, especially, that the government had no warrant to surveillance the cell records. Please donate to Mr. Carpenter"s gofundme to help with his lawyer fees. Thank You

  • Bevvvy

    Unbelievable that it's even a question of whether or not the police have a right to search his home. Of course they don't.

    The criminal that robbed the bank simply could have given the phone number of his friend that had nothing to do with the crime that happened to live near these banks.

    Besides, in today's day and age having a phone is almost a necessity for anybody that isn't completely homeless. Whether it be a flip phone or smartphone. Just because you give out your personal information to a VERY select few trusted people and organizations, doesn't mean that it's public information. It's not like the company providing my cell phone service is giving away my information to random people on the street. It's akin to arresting somebody and searching their home without a warrant because they said they liked Coca-Cola to a close friend and since the police found a bottle of Coca-Cola at the crime scene, that somehow gives the police a right to arrest the person in question.

    Absolutely ridiculous that this is even a serious problem

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