Two weeks ago I sent in my absentee ballot for the state of New Hampshire. While this hasn’t been the first election I have voted in, it feels like the most important. Why I mention this is because this week’s reading topic involved privacy, and the people we vote into office decide and aid into the decisions involving our privacy. It also just happens to be the midterm elections this week in November.
We live in a world now that our cell phones go everywhere with us. They are apart of our being and it is hard to find someone who doesn’t have a cell phone. With that having changed recently in the past 20 years, the question remains how do you define privacy in uncharted territory? In the reading DOJ Asks Supreme Court to Allow Warrantless Access to Cell-Site Location Information focuses on a brief filed in September 27, 2017 from the Department of Justice urging the Supreme Court to allow law enforcement to access historical cell phone location without a warrant. In June the Supreme Court granted certiorari to Carpenter v. United States. Timothy Carpenter who was represented by the ACLU argued that courts should require law enforcement to obtain warrants in order to access cell-site location. The data they are able to access shows a complete detailed itinerary of where that person has been, violating their privacy. In this specific case, Carpenter was arrested in April 2011 in connection with a series of armed robberies. One of the men confessed to the crimes and gave the FBI his cell phone number and the numbers of the other participants in the crime. The FBI then used all of this information to obtain records for each of the phone numbers. Based on the cell data the government charged Carpenter with aiding and abetting a robbery that affected interstate commerce among other offenses.
The government argues that cellphone users “voluntarily reveal to their providers information about their proximity to cell towers so the providers can connect their calls” because of this users cannot expect that the providers will not reveal that information to the government. The DOJ relied in court on the 1970s ruling that Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to third party records containing non content information about an individual. Even large tech companies have weighed in on this case. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Cisco Systems and Verizon have filed amicus briefs arguing that law enforcement does need a warrant to obtain location records. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Carpenters Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Now creating a precedent for law enforcement to obtain a warrant for cell phone data.
Tracing a person’s location and movements reveals private information about someone, using that information without a warrant or the individual knowing they are being watched is violating civil liberties and their right to freedom. I agree with the 5-4 decision for Carpenter. Privacy and freedom is one of our fundamental rights in the United States, completely ignoring that and using older rulings or laws that allow for information to be given to the police is not right. People deserve their privacy.
With all of this being said, our future privacy and the rulings that the Supreme Court hand down depend on us, the voters, to vote for elected officials willing to protect our privacy in anyway. After all, our elected officials have a say in whether a Supreme Court nominee is appointed or not. Do your research, decide whether freedom of privacy is significant to you and most importantly get out and vote!
This is so timely! I really appreciated your piece. I am so interested in how the courts will continue to interpret the 4th amendment in regard to the right of privacy. In Katz v United States, I think it was Justice Stewart who wrote that the 4th amendment protects people not places. To what extent are social media an extension of self in the 21st century? Though Justice Stewart further explains that “what a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection.”