Kansas City Criminal Defense Lawyers
Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant for Cellphone Location Data

Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant for Cellphone Location Data

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday decided that the police requires a warrant to access a person’s cellphone location history. The 5-4 ruling is considered a victory for privacy advocates and a setback for law enforcement agencies.

Written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court decided in favor of Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted of several armed robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio with the help of past cellphone location information that linked him to the crimes scenes. Law enforcement was able to obtain 12,898 location points tracking Carpenter over a period of 127 days.

The justices said that gaining access to such data without a court-approved warrant from wireless carriers, as police commonly do, amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Roberts was joined by the courts’ four liberal justices in the majority, while the court’s other four conservatives dissented.

The government’s argument was based on the “third-party doctrine,” which means a person gives up any reasonable expectation of privacy when they share information or records with a “third party” such as a business. While the doctrine was established in Supreme Court cases regarding canceled checks and landline phone numbers from the 1970s, the government has extended that principle to cover digital records, including cellphone location data.

It was the third ruling in recent years in which the Supreme Court has resolved major cases on how criminal law applies to new technology, ruling against the police each time. In 2012, it decided a search warrant is necessary to attach a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. Two years later, the court required law enforcement generally must get a warrant to search a cellphone’s contents when its user is arrested.

For more information, contact our Kansas City criminal defense lawyer at Stein Law, LLC today.


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