Supreme Court Signals Support For 4th Amendment Digital Privacy Rights

The Supreme Court signaled earlier today during oral arguments of a new case that in order for the government to monitor people through their cellphones a warrant is required. During the past several years, the Supreme Court has ruled that the police cannot use a GPS tracker or search a cell phone without a warrant.  These were sensible decisions based upon how society and technology have evolved.

The case the Supreme Court heard today involved a bunch of robberies that occurred at Radio Shack and T-mobile stores in the Midwest. One of the robbers provided his cell phone number and his co-conspirators numbers to the FBI  which then used the Stored Communications Act to obtain the cell service location information of the phones attached to the numbers. This information was used to help convict the robbers.

The lawyers for the co-conspirators argued that the standard under the Stored Communications Act to obtain cell service data was too low and that the probable cause standard under the Fourth Amendment should apply before cell phone companies can provide location based data of their users.

In my opinion, absent exigent circumstances (e.g. national emergency, risk of imminent death), the government should generally be required to obtain a warrant for digital data.  The Stored Communications Act of 1986 is woefully out of date and needs to be updated to account for how we utilize technology today. The bottom line is that we need a national conversation on how to properly balance privacy and security.

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