By Cailyn Carr 11/29/2017

The nation’s highest court hears a case on Wednesday to determine whether or not officials need to obtain a warrant in order to access cell tower data of individuals. Locational data from the cell towers would allow authorities to track the movements of cell phone users over a period of time.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

The case arose after cell tower location data was used to convict Timothy Carpenter of aiding and abetting a string of armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio. The FBI, in accordance with the Stored Communications Act, used a phone number provided by one of the confessors to the crime to obtain cell-site data that placed Carpenter in the vicinity of the robberies at the time they occurred. Carpenter’s lawyers argued that the Fourth Amendment requires a higher standard of probable cause for officials to acquire this kind of cellphone data.


The ACLU appealed the case to the Supreme Court after the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that cell tower data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Those who agreed with the Appeals Court decision argued that cellphone users have no reasonable expectation of privacy about locational data because they know that their third-party providers already have records of this information. Advocates for the ACLU warned the justices that allowing the government to access this data without any Fourth Amendment restrictions could cause serious privacy breaches. In any case, their decision could set a precedent for future issues of privacy in technology and government surveillance.

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