Based on oral arguments Wednesday, it seems that the Supreme Court may rule in favor of Timothy Carpenter, who argues that law enforcement needs a warrant before it can obtain cellphone data from a third party carrier.
Supreme Court justices from across the spectrum voiced concern on Wednesday about personal privacy and government snooping in a case that tests whether police can obtain cellphone location data of suspects without a warrant, the National Law Journal reports. In Carpenter v. United States, the Justice Department asserts that acquiring cellphone data from a third party carrier does not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment, and does not require a warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing defendant Timothy Carpenter, says he had an expectation of privacy in that data, especially when it tracked 127 days of Carpenter’s movements.
Justices seemed to lean in favor of Carpenter, with some displaying a libertarian streak and others sounding the alarm about personal privacy. “A cellphone can be pinged in your bedroom,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “It can be pinged at your doctor’s office. It can ping you in the most intimate details of your life. Presumably at some point even in a dressing room as you’re undressing.” Addressing ACLU lawyer Nathan Wessler, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said, “I agree with you, that this new technology is raising very serious privacy concerns, but I need to know how much of existing precedent you want us to overrule or declare obsolete.” Justice Anthony Kennedy said most consumers probably know that companies keep cellphone data about customers. He added, “I don’t think there’s an expectation that people are following you for 127 days.” Justice Neil Gorsuch offered another criticism of the government argument, suggesting that Carpenter may have had a property right in the cellphone location data compiled for the police.