Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrants to Obtain a User's Smartphone Location Data

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by MacRumors, Jun 22, 2018.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    The United States Supreme Court today ruled that the government "is required" to obtain a warrant if it wants to gain access to data found on a civilian's smartphone, but only when it's related to the user's location data (via The New York Times).

    Image via Wikimedia Commons

    The decision is expected to have major implications for digital privacy moving forward as it pertains to legal cases, and could cause ripples in unlawful search and seizure cases that involve personal information held by companies like emails, texts, internet searches, bank records, and more.
    Today's vote in the case Carpenter v. United States came down to a 5-4 ruling, and originally emerged from armed robberies of Radio Shacks and other stores in Detroit dating back to 2010.

    In the case, prosecutors relied on "months of records" obtained from smartphone makers to help prove their case, ultimately showing communication between Timothy Ivory Carpenter outside of a robbery location -- with his smartphone nearby -- and his accomplices inside of the location. The companies reportedly turned over 127 days' worth of Carpenter's records, with information as specific as whether or not he slept at home on any given night or if he went to church on Sunday mornings.

    This led to the question by the Supreme Court justices as to whether the prosecutors violated the Fourth Amendment in discovering so much data on Carpenter's movements. Now, police will have to receive a warrant issued by the court in order to obtain any smartphone data as it relates to the owner's location data.

    As the case continued, Apple and other technology companies filed a brief in August 2017 arguing against "rigid analog-era" Fourth Amendment rules. The brief deliberately stayed neutral on the topic of choosing sides, but urged the Supreme Court to continue bringing the Fourth Amendment law into the modern era. The companies stated that customers should not be "forced to relinquish Fourth Amendment protections" against intrusion by the government, simply because they choose to use modern technology.

    Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

    Article Link: Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrants to Obtain a User's Smartphone Location Data
  2. goonie4life9 macrumors regular

    Jun 16, 2010
    I wonder how long before Apple offers the ability to delete your location data, using a method similar to how you can clear your browser history.
  3. bgraham macrumors regular

    Jun 23, 2015
    United Kingdom
    Another 'liberal' case where Roberts sided for.

    The Court could soon take a liberal turn if Roberts continues on his current trajectory, unless a liberal justice retires during Trump's presidency.
  4. Dilster3k macrumors 6502a


    Jul 20, 2014
    I can't believe us goofball monkeys created computers and getting ourselves into issues like this. So weird!
  5. MaxxTraxx macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2008
    How is this a liberal decision? Generally curious.
  6. BuffaloTF macrumors 6502a

    Jun 10, 2008
    I'm shocked this isn't a 9-0 slam dunk with a poster for it... how can we be so vocal about the 2nd Amendment, or the 1st... and not be equally as loud for the 4th? "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated"........... come on now.
  7. bradl macrumors 68040


    Jun 16, 2008
    I wouldn't be surprised if there is another case for this heading to SCOTUS.

    Since this case rules that the 4A applies, but the 5A doesn't apply when a fingerprint is used to unlock the phone (if TouchID is enabled), would not getting the warrant to search the phone implicitly force the suspect to give up his 5A right?

    While I applaud SCOTUS for getting this one right, we've opened another can of worms here, which puts the 4A up against the 5A.

    Because for some people, the United States Constitution seems to end at the 2nd Amendment.

    Regardless, I posted on this very subject here a little over 5 years ago, and no-one seemed to care, as they were too afraid of big nasty mean Obama wanting to take their guns away.

  8. slimtastic Suspended


    May 17, 2018
    Your Mother's Bedroom
    From the start, this should have ALWAYS required a warrant.
  9. britboyj macrumors 6502a

    Apr 8, 2009
    Because Thomas and Alito are in the GOP's pocket, regardless of their lifetime appointment position. Gorsuch has sided with the liberal justices a couple of times, which is more than I expected, but I suspect he'll remain fairly right-of-center rather than hardline right like Scalia was.

    Kennedy is, and always has been, a swing vote, but susceptible to the arguments of the other justices. If Alito and Thomas leave before he does, I suspect he'll swing left more frequently than he does now.
  10. ssgbryan macrumors 6502a


    Jul 18, 2002
  11. surf2snow1 macrumors regular

    Feb 26, 2008
    Once you go in to public spaces you give up many privacy rights. WHERE they got their data from was the problem.
  12. neliason macrumors 6502

    Oct 1, 2015
    Reading briefly from Justice Thomas dissent his reasoning is really straightforward. He basically says this isn’t a question of law but policy. The court is writing policy not deciding law. It is being an activist court in this decision.

  13. rjohnstone macrumors 68040


    Dec 28, 2007
    PHX, AZ.
    It would be pointless. They can only delete data stored on the phone.
    Cell providers control location data captured by their towers.
  14. slimtastic Suspended


    May 17, 2018
    Your Mother's Bedroom
    Right, but that shouldn't matter. The data itself needs to have integrity and be protected. I think lawmakers are slowly figuring this out. This information is highly valuable not just by gov't/law enforcement, but also bad actors like hackers etc.
  15. jimothyGator macrumors 6502


    Jun 12, 2008
    Atlanta, GA
    After reading the NYT article, or the Mac Rumors summary of it, that the conservative judges ruled that a warrant is not necessary. I'm still reading the decision myself (, PDF), but at least some of the dissenting opinions (Gorsuch, for instance), the objection appears to be that the 4th amendment protections of the majority opinion are two narrow. Gorsuch questions the legitimacy of the third party doctrine, and the notion that people give up their "reasonable expectation of privacy" when they give their information, such as cell phone records, to third parties, such as mobile phone operators.
  16. Mousse macrumors 68010


    Apr 7, 2008
    Flea Bottom, King's Landing
    Yep. People go on and on about the 1st and 2nd, but never any love for the 4th. Come on, man. This decision should have been as easy as a 5 year old's homework.
  17. justperry macrumors G3


    Aug 10, 2007
    In the core of a black hole.
    I thought tower triangulation is not that accurate. (at all)
  18. tridley68 macrumors 6502a


    Aug 28, 2014
  19. NufSaid macrumors regular


    Oct 28, 2015
    ÜT: 41.065573,-83.668801
  20. lederermc macrumors 6502


    Sep 30, 2014
    You would think most criminals would know by now to use a burner phone or how to turn off location services when at work.
  21. Felix01 macrumors regular

    Oct 22, 2008
    Depends upon the area (rural vs suburban vs city), the height of surrounding buildings and interference, the angles between the cell towers and the phone (three 120° angles would be optimal), phone battery level, the effectiveness of phone's antenna and transmitter and a few other things beyond the scope of this brief answer.

    Anyway, for a rule of thumb, figure a three-tower triangulation should get you within 300 meters.
  22. QuarterSwede macrumors G3


    Oct 1, 2005
    Colorado Springs, CO
    And the Supreme Court shouldn’t be making law. That’s the legislative branch’s job not the judicial branch’s. There is a great NPR podcast, More Perfect, on why and how the Supreme Court began setting legal precedence and is being abused.
  23. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    On one hand, it's not that inaccurate either. You could be located within 100 meters probably.

    However, triangulation shouldn't happen. All your phone company needs to know is that you are near tower X. They don't need to know that you are also near tower Y and tower Z and calculate your location as best as they can.

    And finally, there is "expectation of privacy". If a phone company said "we need to know exactly where you are to get the phone system working properly. However, we don't hand this information over without a search warrant", then you would have an expectation of privacy.
  24. Princejb134 macrumors 6502

    Jul 22, 2012
    Since when did I the amendment matter anymore?
    The government does whatever they want
    They might as well just shred the bill of rights
  25. bgraham macrumors regular

    Jun 23, 2015
    United Kingdom
    Because all of the liberal justices voted for it and all the conservative justices voted against it, basically.

    Conservatives tend to favour a strong state with regards to policing, and so liberal justices take a broader interpretation of the Constitution's 4th and 14th Amendments with regards to searches, seizures and privacy. Obviously hugely oversimplifying here.

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115 June 22, 2018