The Supreme Court ruled, at the end of June, that seizing cell-site location information—data that tracks cell phone users’ movements—constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. Speaking for a 5-4 majority in Carpenter v. United States, Chief Justice Roberts addressed questions surrounding law enforcement’s warrantless seizure of over 12,000 cell site location points pinged by the defendant’s phone, which allowed for nearly minute-by-minute tracking of his past movements. At the time, police needed only to prove that the data was reasonably relevant to their investigations.  In its opinion the Court will now require that a warrant be obtained with a showing of probable cause – a higher burden of proof than previously required –, and an individualized suspicion that the data’s owner committed a crime in order to access cell-site records.

Continue Reading Narrow Ruling for Privacy at SCOTUS in Carpenter

Written by Paul E. Pelletier

The Chinese Year of the Dragon started with a bang as the Supreme Court issued a much anticipated ruling in this Fourth Amendment case that was neither brave nor innovative. In United States v. Antoine Jones the Court chose to affirm the district and circuit courts’ Fourth Amendment ruling on extremely narrow grounds. Left for another day is the question of the durational limits of covert electronic law enforcement monitoring of a criminal suspect’s public movements. Fourth Amendment connoisseurs who were expecting a blockbuster decision defining the breadth of a person’s privacy rights in the “digital age” must be disappointed.  

Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds that Warrantless “Trespass” in Placement of GPS Device on Vehicle Constitutes an Unreasonable Search Violative of the Fourth Amendment

Some additional information on yesterday’s post regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Quon case. The high Court agreed to hear some, but not all of the issues presented by the Ninth Circuit decision in the case.

The Court will consider whether a police sergeant assigned to a SWAT team had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in text messages transmitted on a department-issued pager and stored by an outside service provider even in the face of the City of Ontario’s “general practice” of non-monitoring of such communications. The Court denied review (known as “certiorari”) to questions of whether the surrender to the city in the first instance by Arch Wireless (the service provider) of those messages violated the Stored Communications Act.

The questions for review are limited, then, to three:• Does a SWAT team member have a reasonable expectation of privacy in text
messages transmitted on his SWAT pager, when the police department has an
official no-privacy policy but a non-policymaking lieutenant announced an
informal policy of allowing some personal use of pagers?

• Did the Ninth Circuit contravene Fourth Amendment precedents and create
circuit conflict by analyzing whether the police department could have used
‘less intrusive methods’ of reviewing text messages transmitted by the SWAT
team member on his SWAT pager?

• Do individuals who send text messages to a SWAT team member’s SWAT pager
have a reasonable expectation that their messages will be free from review by
the recipient’s government employer?