(National Sentinel) Constitution: In today’s digital world, privacy was all but a thing of the past. What people didn’t give up voluntarily themselves on social media accounts, authorities plucked data out of the sky while media behemoths like Google and Facebook gobble terabytes of data every hour.
So it was unusual but extremely pleasant to see the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of strengthening the Fourth Amendment’s privacy and warrant provisions: Now, if police want your cellphone data they have to get a warrant first.
As reported by C/Net:
The US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of digital privacy.
In a 5-4 decision on Friday, the justices said police need warrants to gather phone location data as evidence for trials. That reversed and remanded a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Carpenter v. United States is thehas ruled on. That makes it a landmark decision regarding how law enforcement agencies can use technology as they build cases. The court heard arguments in the case on Nov. 29.
The dispute dates back to a 2011 robbery in Detroit, after which police gathered months of phone location data from Timothy Carpenter’s phone provider. They pulled together 12,898 different locations from Carpenter, over 127 days.
The legal and privacy concern was that police gathered the four months’ worth of Carpenter’s digital footprints without a warrant. A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled that cellphone location data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure, and therefore didn’t require a warrant.
In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the government’s searches of Carpenter’s phone records were considered a Fourth Amendment search.
Of course, cellphone data is private. Of course, it’s protected by the Fourth Amendment, which says, in full:
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.
So, was the Sixth Circuit appeals judge looking for the word “cellphone” in addition to “persons, houses, papers, and effects?”
The framers knew that technology would improve over the decades, and while they likely could not fathom telephones in general, let alone one you could carry with you and receive signals through the air, that’s why they added the word “effects.” That’s intended to be a catch-all term embodying full privacy.
The ruling couldn’t come at a better time because it also serves to underscore the illegal surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign.
There’s one thing that bothers us: How come only five of the nine justices saw fit to back Fourth Amendment privacy?
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