Chief Justice John Roberts prides himself on presiding over a Supreme Court that delivers careful, narrow opinions with clear guidance for lower courts and citizens.
Today's ruling separated mobile devices from earlier case law, which was predominately cited in cases surrounding the acquisition of financial records (United States v. Miller 425 US 435 1976) or phone numbers (Smith v. Maryland 442 USA 735 1979), according to a report by Motherboard from 2016. Fear of this unsafe imbalance of power led to the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which broadly requires a warrant for searches and seizures by the government.
This decision is the result of the Carpenter vs. In Hill's perspective, though, the ruling does not answer all outstanding questions about cell phones and the expectation of privacy.
The Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling Friday, noting that cell phone location records "hold for many Americans the "privacies of life" and should thus be protected under the Fourth Amendment, which asserts the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects". Instead, a warrant will only be required when the suspect "has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party". And in order to function, your phone continuously produces data about your location - data your cell phone company retains, sometimes for years. "In light of the deeply revealing nature of [cell-site location information], its depth, breadth and comprehensive reach, and the inescapable and automatic nature of its collection, the fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection".
"When the government tracks the location of a cellphone it achieves near flawless surveillance", wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.More news: Portugal 1-0 Morocco
This is a huge win for privacy advocates, who have said that the government has a tendency to go too far to get data. "They should not be forced to relinquish Fourth Amendment protections against government intrusion simply by choosing to use those technologies". The records covered 127 days, revealing 12,898 separate points of location data.
The justices' 5-4 decision marks a big change in how police may obtain information that phone companies collect from the ubiquitous cellphone towers that allow people to make and receive calls, and transmit data.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Carpenter, hailed the ruling as a "groundbreaking victory for Americans' privacy rights in the digital age". "Digital data is just different fundamentally than analog, old-school phone records or bank records".
"There has been a seismic shift in technology and also in the implications for privacy since the 1970s when most of these cases were decided", Butler said.