In digital privacy case, Sotomayor says Americans "want to avoid Big Brother"

In digital privacy case, Sotomayor says Americans

Dreeben replied that expectations of privacy "grow out of the bedrock understanding" that when a letter is mailed, the address on the envelope "is available to the government", but not the contents inside.

Nine armed robberies at T-Mobile and Radio Shack stores in OH and MI in 2011 eventually led to the Supreme Court case. United States. At issue is whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation violated the Fourth Amendment when it obtained, without a search warrant, the cellphone records of suspected armed robber Timothy Carpenter. Today the Supreme Court seemed more sympathetic, although they were clearly uncertain about exactly what to do.

"It's a very open question", said Justice Stephen G. Breyer. "We know not where we go". "Other federal courts and judges in several states have recognized that the so-called third party doctrine doesn't apply to CSLI (cell site location information)". Since the information appeared on a monthly phone bill, the court reasoned at the time, the government was simply requesting information people consented to hand over. That data is collected and stored by the cellphone company. They are, he said, "a joint venture" with the individual carrying the phone.

Before appearing before the Supreme Court, a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Carpenter, saying his cellphone data fell "on the unprotected side" of the Fourth Amendment. "The obvious similarity is that, in both cases, you have reliance on a new technology that allows for 24/7 tracking" Kagan told Dreeben.

But the issue of phone data is more complex, with the government arguing that data belong to the companies, not the consumers, who don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

But the outcome of the Supreme Court case could have other, far-reaching implications.

Our mobile phones are troves of personal, private information, and the US Supreme Court weighed yesterdayhow easily police should be able to get it.

Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to see the question differently, however.

"Nobody has expected in a free society that our longer-term locations will be aggregated and tracked in the way that they can be here", said Nate Wessler, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents Carpenter.

Wessler said in an interview that he's confident the justices appreciate what's at stake in the case.

The case arose out of a series of armed robberies in 2010 and 2011 - robberies, ironically, aimed at stealing hundreds of new cellphones and selling them for tens of thousands of dollars. "I am not beyond the belief that someday a provider could turn on my cellphone and listen to my conversations".

The ACLU stepped in, appealing the case to the Supreme Court. He agreed with Dreeben that, as a general rule, information shared with a third party would not be shielded from disclosure, but he proposed an exception to that rule to account for the significant changes in technology. Will the justices rework the third-party doctrine, cabin the power of the police, and recognize broad Fourth Amendment protections for the digital age? He asked Wessler how he would distinguish the court's earlier cases on the third-party doctrine. How sensitive is it really? These days, Alito pointed out, because people rarely pay in cash, bank records can disclose everything - from magazine subscriptions to hotel stays - that someone purchases. Other items people carry with them may be looked at without a warrant, after an arrest.

The closely watched battle, which could lead to new standards regarding digital privacy, drew the attention of a host of outside groups including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, which argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that digital data is entitled to "strong" protections against searches by the police.

"That makes no sense and is not supported by the law", said Mr. Heiman. "I know that most young people have the phones in the bed with them", Sotomayor said, to laughter from the audience in the packed courtroom. Why wouldn't it be reasonable to get that data for each day?

The records obtained by the police in Carpenter's case placed him at the scene of the crimes.

"The advance of technology means that information you used to store in your desk drawer is now stored somewhere with third parties", said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy & Technology. But despite Dreeben's pessimism, the justices seem likely to try.

The Supreme Court in recent years has acknowledged technology's effects on Americans' privacy.

This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.

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