Washington, DC (June 22, 2018) – This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Carpenter v. United States (16-402). The question presented in Carpenter was “whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell phone records revealing the location and movements of a cell phone user over the course of 127 days is permitted by the Fourth Amendment?” In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court held that the Government’s acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search and therefore generally requires a warrant.
“Today’s decision takes into account the ‘seismic shifts’ in technology and provides hope that privacy rights will survive in the digital age,” said NACDL President Rick Jones.
“The Court’s message is clear: digital is different,” said NACDL’s Fourth Amendment Center Senior Litigation Counsel and Co-Author of NACDL’s joint amicus brief Michael Price. “In declining to extend the ‘third-party doctrine’ to cell phone location records, the Court recognizes that data generated by new technologies may be an ‘entirely different species’ of information that demands Fourth Amendment protection.”
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Brennan Center for Justice, Constitution Project, and National Association of Federal Defenders, filed a joint amicus brief in support of the petitioner in Carpenter. In that brief, amici argued that: (i) there has been a dramatic increase in location data generated by cell phones, collected by third parties, and routinely obtained by law enforcement without a warrant, (ii) Cell Site Location Information (CSLI) paints a revealing portrait of a person’s movements, presenting even greater privacy concerns than the GPS tracker at issue in Jones, and (iii) the “third-party doctrine” is “ill-suited to the digital age” and should not apply to CSLI.