Back in 2016, we wrote about how an appeals court determined that police can track your location using nothing more than your cell phone data. Even then we had speculated that if the decision came before the Supreme Court, it would be overturned -and now we have been proven right. So here’s what the new ruling means for you as explained by a Carmel Valley criminal lawyer.
Up until now, the Supreme Court has largely held that you have a right to privacy, but if you share information with a third party, you have given up that right to privacy. While that may have made sense in the past, particularly when all phone calls used landlines, modern technologies have left citizens with little to no privacy because so much of their lives are shared with third parties -often without their full knowledge. After all, a majority of those terms and conditions most people skim past on a regular basis state that information in an app, phone, computer program, etc. can be shared with a third party without the person’s knowledge. And while few people would even read these clauses, even fewer knew that it meant that anything they do with these technologies could then be accessed by police without the use of a warrant. Instead, the police just hd to contact the third party.
With cell phones, that meant that if a person turned on their location services and had an app approved to use those location services, the person had unknowingly opened themselves up to warrantless tracking. When the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia made their ruling that police could track a person through their cell phone, they weren’t making a judgement call on whether or not this type of tracking was fair, but instead based their decision on past Supreme Court cases. Since the Supreme Court had largely ruled that allowing third parties to access your information meant police could obtain that information without a warrant, the Circuit Court applied that precedent to data services on a cell phone as well.
Fortunately for everyone who values their privacy, the Supreme Court did not stand by their past rulings when the issue came before them. “We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “Mapping a cellphone’s location over the course of 127 days provides an all-encompassing record of the holder’s whereabouts,” he wrote about the specific case before the court, “As with GPS information, the time-stamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his ‘familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations.’” The U.S. Supreme Court also recognized cellular companies have broad access to very detailed information about cell phones and their users and showed a willingness to protect the individuals’ right to privacy from governmental intrusion.
The ruling is seen as a major victory for both privacy advocates and Del Mar criminal lawyers as the Court did not limit their decision to just location data, but all types of sensitive digital data -though exactly what information is and is not protected will probably be hammered out in courts for the next decade. That being said, the Court did leave room for exceptions from the warrant rule for emergencies like child abductions or bomb threats.
Mira Mesa defense attorneys believe it is important to note that the Court had already ruled that police must obtain a warrant before looking through a suspect’s cell phone itself.
If you believe the police illegally accessed your digital data, particularly location records from your cell phone or if the police illegally searched your cell phone, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to discuss your case with top Solana Beach criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss.
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