Should the government have ready access to your cell phone records, or should they be required to get a warrant before approaching your service provider? That’s the question at the heart of Carpenter vs. the United States, a case the Supreme Court heard arguments on earliest.
Carpenter refers to Timothy Carpenter, a robbery suspect who police believe was responsible for a number of robberies at RadioShack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan in 2011. Yes, this is shocking. There actually were RadioShacks still in existence in 2011.
Anyway, the FBI requested records from cell phone providers. They had a court order from a magistrate judge and everything was done in accordance with the Stored Communications Act.
With those records, the feds were able to hone in on Carpenter whose phone was apparently in the vicinity of where the robberies were taking place. He was convicted in 2013.
However, according to the ACLU, the evidence from the cell phone companies should be thrown out. Why? Because there was no warrant for the information.
“It would imperil the privacy of all kinds of data that we really can’t avoid creating in the digital age,” said ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, “Some are queries we enter into Google, our web browsing history, medical information, fertility tracking data from a smartphone app, [and] new information from Internet of Things devices we put in our homes.”
The problem is, the courts have ruled plenty of times that the right to privacy kind of goes out the window when you voluntarily give it up to a third-party, and that’s certainly what happened here.
Wessler argues otherwise, claiming that police are required to get a warrant prior to getting location data.
“The choice that Americans have is to either opt out of society totally to protect privacy or to give up all of our privacy rights in order to be modern human beings,” he argued. “That just can’t be the right choice.”
This case clearly has far-reaching ramifications regarding privacy, which is important in light of the Obama administration’s constant use of power against perceived enemies. When it wasn’t the IRS screwing with right-leaning groups, it was tapping the phones of journalists. I think it’s safe to say that the last thing we need is a government with more power.
Yes, that’s true even if you trust President Trump completely. After all, he won’t be president for life. At some point, he’ll be out of office. Are you sure you want to trust the next guy? The power you give the government of today is the power that can be used when your opponents take control tomorrow, and I’d rather keep them from being able to get access to records without a warrant.