Supreme Court rules police always need warrant for cell tower location data

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in iPhone
In a critical decision for iPhone owners, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police must obtain a warrant if they want to look at location data gleaned from cell towers.

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"Given the unique nature of cell phone location records, the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user's claim to Fourth Amendment protection," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the court's 5-4 majority opinion on Carpenter v. United States. Roberts elaborated that obtaining location in data in general should be treated as a search, requiring police to show probable cause.

The court rejected a government claim that the records being held by carriers like Sprint meant there was no reasonable expectation of privacy. "Seismic shifts" have altered our concepts, the court said.

"Sprint Corporation and its competitors are not your typical witnesses," Roberts wrote. "Unlike the nosy neighbor who keeps an eye on comings and goings, they are ever alert, and their memory is nearly infallible."

In the case of Timothy Carpenter, the robbery convict at the heart of the case, police are said to have obtained 12,898 location points, tracking him over a course of 127 days. The American Civil Liberties Union came to his defense.

In 2017 Apple joined companies like Cisco, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft in supporting a warranty requirement. In a shared amicus brief, the companies argued that the court should "refine the application of certain Fourth Amendment doctrines to ensure that the law realistically engages with Internet-based technologies and with people's expectations of privacy in their digital data."

Tech firms like Apple have a vested interested in keeping location data secure, since people may be less likely to pay for their platforms if they feel their privacy is at risk. Friday's decision won't impact "conventional" surveillance methods like seucirty cameras, or any national security efforts like mass surveillance.

Apple has adopted a tough stance on privacy in the U.S., particularly since it narrowly avoided a court battle with the U.S. Department of Justice over whether it could be forced to code a backdoor into iOS. More recently it acknowledged that iOS 12's "USB Restricted Mode" is geared not just toward thwarting criminal hackers, but also police searches in authoritarian countries.

The company has backed down in China however, for instance voluntarily pulling VPN apps from the App Store, and putting local iCloud data within easier reach of the Chinese government by transferring control to a native company. Critics have accused Apple of maintaining a double-standard out of fear of losing the lucrative Chinese market.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,244member
    Chalk one up to rational thought. The dissenting opinion said it will make the jobs of police harder, but that’s why it’s called “work”, fellas. Just say no to the spy state. 
    DAalsethracerhomie3lostkiwidysamorialamboaudi4watto_cobrajony0Alex1N
  • Reply 2 of 32
    The fact that 4 thought no privacy protection is OK is disturbing.
    gutengelStrangeDaysracerhomie3lostkiwitallest skildysamoriawatto_cobrajony0Alex1N
  • Reply 3 of 32
    BuffyzDeadBuffyzDead Posts: 328member

    Duh!!
    The right decision was made, which is a No Brainer

    What is Truly Stunning
    is that the "conservative" side of the court had no problem disregarding the fourth amendment of the US Constitution,
    and
    had no problem allowing the "government" to watch its citizens movements, collect their private communications, and intervene in their private financial matters WITHOUT a warrant ?!?!

    4th Amendment text:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"

    Party Over Country
    gutengelStrangeDayslostkiwidysamoriaroundaboutnowwatto_cobrajony0Alex1N
  • Reply 4 of 32
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,894member
    The headline is not entirely accurate.

    While in general a warrant will be required for gathering location records held by cellphone companies going forward it is not going to necessarily be ALWAYS:
    “We hold only that a warrant is required in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party”...

    That's an important takeaway, SCOTUS is not saying a warrant is always required for personal data.
    edited June 2018 gutengeldysamoriaSpamSandwichjony0
  • Reply 5 of 32
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 923member
    So this sounds like police-operated cell phone towers used to gather the same info AKA "Stingray" devices will be illegal in many circumstances. 
  • Reply 6 of 32
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,244member

    Duh!!
    The right decision was made, which is a No Brainer

    What is Truly Stunning
    is that the "conservative" side of the court had no problem disregarding the fourth amendment of the US Constitution,
    and
    had no problem allowing the "government" to watch its citizens movements, collect their private communications, and intervene in their private financial matters WITHOUT a warrant ?!?!

    4th Amendment text:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"

    Party Over Country
    For some reason conservatives are more allied to law & order policies than they are of government overreach when it comes to law enforcement policies. Bootlickers, I guess. 
    lostkiwidysamoriawatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 32
    jd_in_sbjd_in_sb Posts: 1,485member
    In today’s connected society part of our privacy is necessarily stored on cell company servers. Though I am very pro law enforcement I think this is a reasonable decision. If they can’t get a warrant they have no business accessing my location data. If they have a warrant, go for it. 
    dysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 32
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    The fact that 4 thought no privacy protection is OK is disturbing.
    Yeah but it highlights why we as a nation must work diligently to protect all of the Bill of Rights.  Just recently i read that the ACLU has been considering dropping freedom of speach defenses.   This just highlights how warped the concept of liberty has become, they dont realize that the freedom to speak your mind is an essential freedom.  

    Im actually hoping that this indicates that the court will start to extend more protections to businesses.  Not just to protect the business but to prevent mining for personal data.  
    dysamoria
  • Reply 9 of 32
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    linkman said:
    So this sounds like police-operated cell phone towers used to gather the same info AKA "Stingray" devices will be illegal in many circumstances. 
    Actually it has little to do with that.   
  • Reply 10 of 32
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member

    Duh!!
    The right decision was made, which is a No Brainer

    What is Truly Stunning
    is that the "conservative" side of the court had no problem disregarding the fourth amendment of the US Constitution,
    and
    had no problem allowing the "government" to watch its citizens movements, collect their private communications, and intervene in their private financial matters WITHOUT a warrant ?!?!

    4th Amendment text:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"

    Party Over Country
    For some reason conservatives are more allied to law & order policies than they are of government overreach when it comes to law enforcement policies. Bootlickers, I guess. 
    There is good reason to be on the side of law and order.   There are plenty of examples where that isnt much of a concern.  As for the dessenting judges here we would have to read their opinions to understand their thoughts here which likely vary individually.  

    By the way this ruling doesnt really look like the home run the media is portraying here.  In fact i would say it is pretty confused.  
    georgie01
  • Reply 11 of 32
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,894member
    linkman said:
    So this sounds like police-operated cell phone towers used to gather the same info AKA "Stingray" devices will be illegal in many circumstances. 
    I don't see why one would be connected to the other. SCOTUS' ruling was relatively narrow.
  • Reply 12 of 32
    US Judges have a problem with consistency of interpretation. How about Second Amendment?
    tallest skil
  • Reply 13 of 32
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 923member
    US Judges have a problem with consistency of interpretation. How about Second Amendment?
    SCJ Clarence Thomas chided his colleagues about exactly that: https://www.dailywire.com/news/27380/justice-thomas-rips-supreme-court-ignoring-second-ben-shapiro
  • Reply 14 of 32

    Duh!!
    The right decision was made, which is a No Brainer

    What is Truly Stunning
    is that the "conservative" side of the court had no problem disregarding the fourth amendment of the US Constitution,
    and
    had no problem allowing the "government" to watch its citizens movements, collect their private communications, and intervene in their private financial matters WITHOUT a warrant ?!?!

    4th Amendment text:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"

    Party Over Country
    There are very few true conservatives in D.C. A true conservative believes in preserving the constitution, but unfortunately the left has turned the word conservative into a pejorative, just as the right has done with the true definition of liberal. Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C. only care about one thing, and that’s maintaining the status quo because that’s how they keep lifetime jobs and get rich. I mean, you don’t actually think the Clintons became multimillionaires by being entrepreneurs and running legitimate business’ do you?
    tallest skilgeorgie01
  • Reply 15 of 32
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 505member
    wizard69 said:
    The fact that 4 thought no privacy protection is OK is disturbing.
    Yeah but it highlights why we as a nation must work diligently to protect all of the Bill of Rights.  Just recently i read that the ACLU has been considering dropping freedom of speach defenses.   This just highlights how warped the concept of liberty has become, they dont realize that the freedom to speak your mind is an essential freedom.  

    Im actually hoping that this indicates that the court will start to extend more protections to businesses.  Not just to protect the business but to prevent mining for personal data.  
    The Supreme Court is already extending too many protections to businesses; see ‘corporations are people.’ Nonetheless, the 4th Amendment protects people from undue government search and seizure. It does not protect people from each other. You have to go to other areas of law for that. As such, this ruling has nothing to do with businesses or protection of personal data from businesses. This case was literally about limiting police access to scads of personal data that is already collected and held by businesses. The police may have to get a warrant for it, but AT&T and Verizon already know exactly where you’ve been.
    gatorguydysamoria
  • Reply 16 of 32
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 505member

    Duh!!
    The right decision was made, which is a No Brainer

    What is Truly Stunning
    is that the "conservative" side of the court had no problem disregarding the fourth amendment of the US Constitution,
    and
    had no problem allowing the "government" to watch its citizens movements, collect their private communications, and intervene in their private financial matters WITHOUT a warrant ?!?!

    4th Amendment text:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"

    Party Over Country
    For some reason conservatives are more allied to law & order policies than they are of government overreach when it comes to law enforcement policies. Bootlickers, I guess. 
    They’re more allied to it until law & order starts looking at the funny business of their preferred politicians. Then it’s a “witch hunt.”
    dysamoriaroundaboutnow
  • Reply 17 of 32
    davidwdavidw Posts: 975member
    linkman said:
    So this sounds like police-operated cell phone towers used to gather the same info AKA "Stingray" devices will be illegal in many circumstances. 
    No. This has to do with government needing a warrant to obtain location information that is in the hands of a third party. The government would not need to serve itself with a warrant to obtain information that they already have, from setting up their own surveillance. 
    dysamoria
  • Reply 18 of 32
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    BuffyzDead said:
    the "conservative" side of the court had no problem disregarding the fourth amendment of the US Constitution
    Uh… no. Even Wikipedia admits you’re wrong. They’re simply against the “living document” bullshit.
    The case is considered an example of the United States Constitution existing as a “living document”, which argues that the United States Constitution was written to be broad and flexible to accommodate social or technological change over time.
    The above is obviously false. The Founders wanted nothing like this. No one who has read anything they wrote could say otherwise.

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"

    Correct. So why hasn’t anyone declared the Patriot Act (et. al.) unconstitutional yet? Since it clearly violates the Constitution? Would you like me to list the other “laws” that are unconstitutional and which will get this thread locked?
    Party Over Country
    Explain in what way “conservatives” are known as NOT being the party of the Constitution, and the way in which liberals ARE known as being the party that gives A SINGLE FLYING FUCK about what the Constitution actually says. Please do this. I’m extremely curious. And since I love flaunting false dichotomies, I’m also curious how anyone who read the Constitution would think that this case could have been ruled in any way other than it was. Of COURSE the government has no power to spy without a warrant. The context is UTTERLY IRRELEVANT, that’s why the Constitution doesn’t LIST any contexts. “Persons, houses, papers, and effects” means… CELL PHONES. All digital stuff. That’s an “effect.”
  • Reply 19 of 32
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    wizard69 said:
    Just recently i read that the ACLU has been considering dropping freedom of speach defenses.
    They weren’t honestly taking them, anyway.
    gatorguy said:
    That's an important takeaway, SCOTUS is not saying a warrant is always required for personal data.
    So what about the NSA’s fake cell towers? No warrant there, right?
    http://archive.is/MAfzd



  • Reply 20 of 32
    davidwdavidw Posts: 975member
    At least with a land line, the phone numbers one dial are not protected by the 4th Amendment. The reasoning that you already shared that info with a third [arty, the telephone company. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy there. Whether one used a home phone or a public telephone booth. Thus law enforcement do not need a warrant to have a telephone company turn over all the phones numbers that were dialed from a certain phone or have the telephone company install a device that can record the numbers dials for law enforcement.  

    However, the conversation over that phone is protected by the 4th, as there is a reasonable expectation of privacy there, even if one is using third party equipment to make the phone call. So in order for government to tap or bug a phone line, they need a warrant.

    It's Smith vs Maryland. This was back in  1979, I'm not sure if there's any new ruling pertaining to the privacy of phone numbers dialed from a cell phones. 
     
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_v._Maryland

    So basically, with this ruling, the SCOTUS has ruled that the location data that telecoms record, (be it by tower triangulation or GPS), with every call made from a cell phone, must now be treated the same as the private conversation over the phone and not part of the phone number. Even if the callers has no reasonable expectation of privacy as to the phone number they dial, the callers do have a reasonable expectation of privacy as to where they are, when they placed a call. So, like with the conservation over a phone, government now needs a search warrant for the telecom to turn over that location data.
    dysamoria
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