Essay Example on Most Americans carry a cell phone with them at all Times









Little do they know that they are constantly transmitting information about their whereabouts to their phone service provider In November the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Carpenter v United States a case that will determine whether the Fourth Amendment allows the Government to access an individual s cell phone location records without a warrant This case began with the arrest of Timothy Carpenter who orchestrated a number of robberies in Ohio and Michigan Based on information from Carpenter s co conspirators the Government obtained a court order not a warrant requiring Carpenter s cell phone carrier to provide 127 days of location records for Carpenter s account These records provided the location of the cell phone towers with which Carpenter s cell phone connected at the time he made calls Relying on these records the Government determined that Carpenter s cell phone connected with towers in the vicinity of several of the robberies at approximately the same time as those robberies Given that cell phones connect with the tower to which they are closest at the time of the call this was compelling evidence in the Government's prosecution Prior to trial Carpenter unsuccessfully moved to suppress the Government's use of his cell phone location records under the Fourth Amendment A jury convicted Carpenter on numerous counts of the Hobbs Act and firearms charges 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction rejecting Carpenter s renewed argument that the Government violated his Fourth Amendment rights by its warrantless search of his cell phone location records In asking the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction Carpenter presented a two part argument First Carpenter argued that the Government s acquisition of cell phone location records constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment because individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the geo location data emitted by their cell phones Carpenter argued that this case was not governed by the third party doctrine which dictates that the Fourth Amendment offers no protection for information that an individual voluntarily shares with a third party both because cell phone location records are more sensitive that the records at issue in the Court's previous cases bank records and telephone numbers and also because cell phone users do not voluntarily share this information Second Carpenter argued that the warrantless search of his cell phone location records was unreasonable 

Carpenter reasoned that he has a compelling privacy interest in his cell phone records because he keeps his cell phone with him at all times and therefore these records provide constantly updated information on his location even when he is in his own home or in other locations where he would have a reasonable expectation of privacy The Government argued that the use of Carpenter s cell phone location records did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights The Government posited that its acquisition of Carpenter s cell phone location records did not constitute a Fourth Amendment search In support of this argument the Government relied on the third party doctrine and maintained that Carpenter had no legitimate expectation of privacy in these records Additionally the Government argued that Carpenter maintained no ownership interest in his cell phone location records because the carrier collected these records in the ordinary course of business At oral argument the Justices seemed keenly aware of the difficulty in drawing privacy lines in an age of increasingly ubiquitous and invasive technology Justice Breyer may have said it best when he referred to the advancements in technology as an open box and remarked that the Court knows not where to go Justices Sotomayor and Gorsuch perhaps regarded as unlikely allies both expressed a visceral concern that the Government would violate basic principles of privacy enshrined in the Fourth Amendment by tracking the location of cell phone users By contrast Justice Kennedy appeared unmoved by privacy concerns when he commented that most cell phone users know that their carrier collects geo location data Questions posed by Justice Kagan and Chief Justice Roberts focused on inconsistencies between the Government's position and the Court's prior rulings Justice Kagan asked the Government to distinguish the facts in this case from those in United States v Jones where the Court held that attaching a GPS device to a car constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment 

In response to Justice Kagan s request the Government argued that unlike GPS data cell phone location records are developed by a phone carrier as a business record Justice Kagan appeared unpersuaded by this argument Likewise Chief Justice Roberts remarked that he viewed the Government's position as inconsistent with the holding of Riley v California in which the Justices ruled that the Government may not conduct a warrantless search of an arrestee s cell phone The Justices appeared to be conflicted about whether the third party doctrine should apply in this case Justice Alito suggested that bank records which the Court has allowed the Government to obtain without a warrant are potentially far more sensitive than cell phone location records Justice Kennedy echoed Justice Alito s sentiment noting that cell phone location records only reveal movements that could otherwise be publicly viewed By contrast Justices Sotomayor and Breyer seemed poised to find cell phone location records to be uniquely revealing and therefore exempt from the third party doctrine Given the centrality of cell phones in everyday life Carpenter may be one of the Supreme Court's most important Fourth Amendment decisions in recent memory A decision is expected in early summer 2018

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