We FIGHT For Your Future
A boxer is in a fighting stance

Smartphones and the Fourth Amendment: ‘Most Important Privacy Case in a Generation’

| Jul 25, 2017 | Criminal Justice |

The Case of Carpenter v. United States

woman with smartphone.jpg
If she’s not thinking about privacy, she probably should be.

We wait with bated breath the next term of the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the Justices will hear what Motherboard calls “the most important privacy case in a generation.” It’s a case involving smartphones, of course, and the question is how far the government can snoop in a criminal investigation (as it usually is in cases involving the Fourth Amendment).

The Fourth Amendment

Let’s begin with a brief refresher on the Fourth:

  • The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Smartphone Theft Mastermind

The federal government has accused Timothy Carpenter of masterminding a number of armed robberies (“ironically, stealing new smartphones,” as Amy Howe points out for SCOTUSblog).

In the lower courts, Carpenter argued that the government failed to get a warrant for the search of cellphone records; as such, evidence obtained from the search was invalid. For its part, the government claimed authority to access cellphone records under the Stored Communications Act.

So far, the courts have not ruled in Carpenter’s favor.

Cell Tower Records Show When and Where You’ve Been

As Howe reports, the lower court said, “Carpenter would have no reason to believe that his cellphone records would be kept private […] because the records simply show where his phone connected with cell towers, without providing any information about the content of his calls.”

Of course, since the records do show where Carpenter’s phone connected with various cell towers, that presumably made the government’s case, since it could pin when and where Carpenter was at the time of the armed robberies.

The government apparently believes that the Stored Communications Act allows it access to cellphone records without a warrant, based on earlier legal opinions from the 1970s – when the iPhone was merely a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye – that allowed evidence from business records without a warrant.

We’ll wait to see whether the Supreme Court agrees.

Read more:

Archives

FindLaw Network
More than 50 years of combined experience

50+
years of combined experience

Super Lawyer Rising Stars

4
attorneys selected to Rising Stars between 2019 and 2021

Martindale-Hubbell-AV-Preeminent-2020

3
lawyers rated Preeminent through Martindale-Hubbell*

Martindale-Hubbell-client-champion-platinum-2021

4
years our founder has received the Client Champion – Platinum award by Martindale-Hubbell*

Payment Plans Available, Call Now!
Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Let Us Help You

Put our team of criminal defense lawyers on your side today. You are one phone call or email away from getting your questions answered by an experienced defense attorney.

Call us at 877-880-5753 to set up a free consultation or send us an email.

Fill out the form below for a Free Consultation.

Badges the Roberts Law Group, PLLC attorneys have earned
Super Lawyers, Avvo 10 rating, AV Preeminent Client Champion badges