The U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide on whether law enforcement can track suspects without a warrant via their cellphones. The suit will have major implications for personal privacy and policing nationwide.
Carpenter v. United States is a very interesting case since one of the suspects in multiple robberies sued the police for having tracked his phone without a search warrant.
- Timothy Carpenter, the leader of the gang that robbed nine stores and sold hundreds of phones for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market, is the only one that pleaded not guilty.
- Carpenter and his brother claim that their location was unlawfully tracked by the police via information provided by their wireless provider on the dates of the robberies.
The men were apprehended seven years ago, but the legal battle is ongoing. The prosecution said that they only had access to Carpenter’s location when he made or received a call, not when he texted or did not use his handset.
Investigators Track Phones without a Warrant
Cellphone towers can record a phone’s location with a precision of half a mile or two. The prosecution also had eyewitness testimonies and video footage that incriminated the man and his gang, but the most irrefutable evidence was the cellphone location data.
The Supreme Court will now have to decide whether the police should have requested a warrant first. For this purpose, they would have had to convince a judge that they needed the info to arrest Carpenter. Investigators, however, got only a court order under the Stored Communications Ac, which is not that hard to attain.
Prosecutors argue that the nation’s highest court had already ruled on the issue when it decided that mobile phone users are already giving up their right to privacy under the U.S. Constitution whenever they share private info with a phone company or other third-parties.