Americans have won a “ground breaking” victory for privacy rights in the digital age, thanks to last week’s Supreme Court decision requiring police to seek a warrant in most cases to access cell phone data, according to a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ruling “opened up the path for future cases to apply the Fourth Amendment to all kinds of digital data that American’s can’t avoid using in their daily lives,” said Nathan Wessler, the ACLU attorney who represented Timothy Carpenter, the defendant in the case.
Timothy Carpenter, had been sentenced to 116 years in prison for his role in robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio. Cell tower records that investigators received without a warrant bolstered the case against Carpenter.
Investigators received the cell tower records with a court order that requires a lower standard than the “probable cause” needed to obtain a warrant.
Wessler noted that as technology develops, privacy rights will have to follow.
In an interview with The Crime Report, he called the ruling “a strong rejection of the government’s position that by merely using modern technology (which results in data storing) we give up privacy rights to digital records.”
“The ruling strongly defends people’s privacy rights and cell phone location data, which can reveal so much private information about where we go an who we spend time with.”
According to Wessler, without proper privacy laws, law enforcement has access to a plethora of information through data sharing.
“Technology is giving police capabilities that were unimaginable a decade or two ago and right now there are many other ways police are gathering evidence,” he said.
He listed facial recognition, smart devices that monitor heart rate, news apps that reveal what you’re reading and what your politics are, and dating apps that reveal your relationship status as possible information that police could collect.
There are so many permutations of sensitive digital data that courts will have to be grappling with very soon, he warned.
“But going forward, cautious and responsible police and prosecutors should get warrants whenever they request phone data.”
“If they don’t, they are risking [having] their evidence thrown out when courts interpret what Supreme Court was talking about.”
Megan Hadley is a staff writer for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.