The case centers around whether investigators need to obtain a warrant for cell tower data to track and reconstruct the location and movements of cell phone users over extended periods of time.
Most courts have held there is a diminished privacy interest in this area because phone companies already have the information, but Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst, said the privacy issues at stake are broader.
“We all share tons of data with third parties on a daily basis, from our cell phone carriers to our credit card companies to our financial institutions and so on,” said Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas School of law.
“For decades, the Supreme Court has held that, once we voluntarily share that information with these firms, the government will usually not need a warrant for that data, no matter how personal or private it may be,” he added. “In this case, it looks like the justices are interested in revisiting that reasoning — perhaps with an eye toward how technological advancements have dramatically changed the privacy calculus.”
The case was brought after a 2011 robbery in Detroit when investigators obtained phone location records for their investigation.
“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,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, and co-counsel in the Carpenter v. United States case.
The case will be heard next term, which begins in October.