A big win for privacy and the 4th Amendment was handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday as they ruled police now need warrants to gather phone location data used as evidence in court trials.
The 5-4 decision reverses a Sixth Court of Appeals ruling that phone data was not protected by the Constitution’s 4th Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure. Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch were the dissenting justices.
This case marks the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on phone location. The case stemmed from Carpenter v. United States and dates back to a 2011 robbery in Detroit where police spent months gathering information from phone location data of Timothy Carpenter. The police gathered nearly 13,000 different locations over a four month period.
Lawyers for Carpenter argued police took Carpenter’s digital footprints without first obtaining a warrant.
In the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The government’s position fails to contend with the seismic shifts in digital technology that made possible the tracking of not only Carpenter’s location but also everyone else’s, not for a short period but for years and years.”
Roberts stated the tracking and accessing of GPS data infringed upon Carpenter’s 4th Amendment rights and his expectation of privacy. Carpenter’s lawyers included attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The case was argued by ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who stated, “This is a groundbreaking victory for Americans’ privacy rights in the digital age.”
Major tech companies, including Facebook, Apple, and Google filed briefs with the Court, asking the justices to make it more difficult for law enforcement to acquire and use phone data without first obtaining a warrant.