“On Wednesday, the supreme court will consider whether the government must obtain a warrant before accessing the rich trove of data that cellphone providers collect about cellphone users’ movements,” Jameel Jaffer and Alexander Abdo write for The Guardian. “The parties’ briefs make little mention of the first amendment, instead framing the dispute – for understandable reasons – as one about the right to privacy. Yet the court’s resolution of the case is likely to have far-reaching implications for the freedoms of speech, press and association.”

“The case, Carpenter v United States, arises out of the government’s prosecution of Timothy Carpenter for a series of armed robberies carried out in south-eastern Michigan and north-western Ohio several years ago. In the course of its investigation of the crimes, the government ordered Carpenter’s cellphone provider to turn over data it had collected relating to Carpenter’s movements. In response, the provider produced 186 pages listing every call that Carpenter had made over a 127-day period, as well as coordinates indicating where Carpenter had been at the beginning and end of each of those calls,” Jaffer and Abdo write. “Importantly, it turned over these records even though the government had not obtained a warrant based on probable cause. Carpenter asked the court to suppress the government’s evidence under the fourth amendment, which protects the right to privacy.”

“The government contends that Carpenter lacks a constitutionally protected privacy interest in his location data because his cellphone was continually sharing that data with his cellphone provider,” Jaffer and Abdo write. “In a brief filed in support of Carpenter, 19 leading technologists explain how easy it is to use a person’s location data to learn about her beliefs and associations. (We represent the technologists.) With very few data points, the technologists observe, an analyst can learn whether a given person attended a public demonstration, attended a political meeting, or met with a particular activist or lawyer. With more data, an analyst can identify social networks and learn not only whether a given person was at a public demonstration but who else attended the demonstration with her.”

Jaffer and Abdo write, “The court should consider what will remain of these indispensable democratic freedoms if the government is afforded access, without close judicial supervision, to the information that cellphone providers are continuously collecting about all of us, and to the other sensitive and even intimate records that all of us passively and routinely share with third parties.

Read more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: Hopefully The Supremes get it right and require a warrant for such information.

The U.S. Supreme court should block warrantless cellphone tracking.

Apple, other tech companies ask Supreme Court to block warrantless cellphone tracking – August 15, 2017
U.S. Supreme Court unanimously bans warrantless cell phone searches – June 25, 2014
As U.S. government discusses expanding digital searches, ACLU sounds caution – April 7, 2014
Apple to government authorities: ‘Show warrant to get data’ – May 9, 2014
Can U.S. police search your iPhone without a warrant? – April 28, 2014
U.S. court ruling opens phones to warrantless searches – March 1, 2012