Your Smartphone and the Fourth Amendment
Technology is usually one step ahead of the laws in this country. Sometimes, this works in favor of early adopting consumers. For instance, in the last few years, those who enjoy vaping did so before regulations caught up. In some cases, though, this also works against consumers. You may not realize it yet, but this is the case for anyone who owns a cell phone.
In 2014, the Supreme Court made a decision in a case called Riley v. California that made it illegal for police officers to search cell phones without a warrant. That decision probably seems right on the surface to most people. Look again, however, at when that decision was made – three years ago. How long have you owned a cell phone?
The law is not the only thing that lags behind technology. Consumer understanding of our technology, what it does to us, and the legal implications of how we use it also lag. It took a long time for consumers, speaking generally, to realize that their phones track everything about them. This includes everything from location to shopping habits.
Summary of Carpenter v. United States:
As 2017 comes to an end, there is a question before the Supreme Court regarding whether or not law enforcement needs a search warrant to get information regarding your location from wireless carriers. The case is called Carpenter v. United States, and a decision regarding this case should come soon.
Timothy Carpenter was convicted on six charges of robbery. The primary evidence used in the case was Carpenter’s location records obtained from his cell phone usage and correlating cell phone towers. The question is whether or not a warrant should be necessary whenever police seek to obtain and use this kind of evidence.
What Does the Fourth Amendment Protect?
This case is being described as a major examination of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires warrants when “probable cause” exists. Before smartphones, it was not so hard to define “unreasonable search and seizure.” In the age of smartphones, however, your phone now travels with you and is more like a small computer in your pocket. Now that so much of our lives can be found on our phones, questions abound as to what police should be able to access from them without a warrant.
It should be noted that police are not always the bad guys. It is possible that they are testing the boundaries of a system that has not yet clearly defined boundaries in light of the existing technology. Hopefully, this is what the police did during Timothy Carpenter’s case.
However, it does not mean things should stay the way they are.
The Implications of Carpenter v. United States:
It might seem like a case before the Supreme Court will have little significance directly for you. That is not the case here, however. If the Supreme Court rules against Carpenter, the police may be able to use your location data from your cell phone as part of their investigations against you. If the Court rules against the government, location data from your phone may remain protected under the Fourth Amendment.
If you are under criminal investigation, you need an experienced and knowledgeable attorney helping you from the very beginning. If this applies to you, call or e-mail today for a free consultation.
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