Supreme Court takes up warrantless use of cellphone data

Supreme Court takes up warrantless use of cellphone data
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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case next term challenging the use of cellphone records without a warrant.

The case, Carpenter v. United States, centers on Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted of committing a string of armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio between December 2010 and March 2011. 

The government’s evidence at trial included business records from the defendants’ wireless carriers, showing his cellphone was used within a half-mile to two miles of several robberies during the times they occurred.

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Carpenter argued that the government’s collection of those records constituted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the lower court ruling sentencing him to 1,395 months, nearly 116 years, in prison.


The American Civil Liberties Union, Carpenter’s co-counsel, praised the justices for agreeing to hear a landmark case on whether the government needs a warrant to access a person’s cell phone location history.

“Because cell phone location records can reveal countless private details of our lives, police should only be able to access them by getting a warrant based on probable cause,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement.

“The time has come for the Supreme Court to make clear that the longstanding protections of the Fourth Amendment apply with undiminished force to these kinds of sensitive digital records.”

- Updated at 10:52 a.m.