Supreme Court to hear Carpenter v. United States, a case about privacy in the digital age


Supreme Court to hear Carpenter v. United States, a case about privacy in the digital age

Trévon Austin

29 November 2017

The US Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearings today on Carpenter v. United States, a case which holds significant implications for democratic rights. The case, which raises questions on whether or not citizens have reasonable expectations of privacy in the digital age, is expected to be the most important Fourth Amendment case in a generation.

In April 2011, police arrested four men connected to a series of armed robberies. One of the men involved confessed to the crimes and gave officers his cell phone number and the numbers of others involved in the robberies.

The FBI used the numbers of the other participants to apply for three orders from magistrate judges to obtain “transactional records” for each of the phone numbers, which the judges granted under the Stored Communications Act.

The act states the government may request the disclosure of certain telecommunications records when “specific and articulable facts show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of a wire or electronic communication, or the records or other information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

In this case, the records obtained by the FBI included the date and time of calls, and the approximate location where calls began and ended based on information from cell towers. All of the information used was gathered without an issue of a warrant.

For a total of 127 days, historical cell-site information (CSLI) was collected regarding phones used by defendant Timothy Carpenter, who had been named by an accomplice as the mastermind of a string of nine commercial burglaries committed in and around…

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