10:36, June 22 92 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-22 10:36:04
Supreme court bans police access to phone data without a warrant

A US supreme court ruling issued Friday barred police from accessing cell phone data such as call listings and location data without first obtaining a search warrant, in a landmark decision in favor of privacy protections.

Advocates hailed the 5-4 ruling as a victory for personal privacy rights in an age when digital technology and the widespread use of mobile devices could create easy paths for law enforcement or other state bodies into the most intimate corners of private life.

Chief justice John Roberts was joined by the court’s four liberal-leaning justices in writing for the majority. The four dissenting justices each wrote a separate dissent.

The majority in the case, Carpenter v United States, ruled that police had committed a privacy violation by seizing data from a cell phone provider that helped convict Timothy Carpenter in armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio.

Carpenter was sentenced to 116 years in prison. His lawyers argued that his fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures had been violated when police seized a list of every call that Carpenter had made over 127 days along with his locations during the calls.

Advocates saw the case as a watershed test of how the court would apply privacy protections in the digital age, calling it “the most consequential privacy ruling in a generation”.

“How the nine justices rule in Carpenter will affect the privacy rights of virtually every single American,” Trevor Timm wrote for the Guardian.

In deciding the case, the justices weighed traditional privacy protections against the unprecedented volume of personal data generated by the use of cell phones and other mobile devices that communicate with cell phone towers, which in turn collect reams of data retained by commercial service providers.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned in oral arguments in the case how vulnerable privacy was in the face of such a volume of data.

“A cellphone can be pinged in your bedroom,” she said. “It can be pinged at your doctor’s office. It can ping you in the most intimate details of your life. Presumably at some point even in a dressing room as you’re undressing.”

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