The Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with a major case involving privacy in the digital era, considering how to apply established legal rules to rapidly changing technology. The Supreme Court sought to find balance at where privacy should begin and how much access law enforcement should have to the information gleaned from cellphones.
Police can search cellphone location histories without a warrant.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she feared a “dragnet sweep” on the part of the government and she noted that cell phones have become an “appendage” for people in the modern era.
“Most Americans, I still think, want to avoid Big Brother,” she said. “They want to avoid the concept that government will be able to see and locate you anywhere you are at any point in time.”
She also noted that a cell phone can be pinged in bedrooms and doctor’s offices.
Chief Justice John Roberts had issues with the government’s position that the collected information belonged to the cell service company and did not implicate the privacy of the customer.
“The person helps the company create the record by being there and sending out the pings,” he said.
The court potentially could rule that the practice by law enforcement authorities of obtaining such data without a warrant amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
A ruling is due by the end of June.
The legal fight has raised questions about the degree to which companies protect customers’ privacy rights. The big four wireless carriers, Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc, T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp, receive tens of thousands of these requests annually from law enforcement.