A recent ruling from the Supreme Court may have scaled down Big Brother’s influence over smartphone users, as police will now have to get a special warrant in order to access smartphone location data. This is a huge shift towards the future of digital privacy and rights for modern tech users. How will this impact the future of smartphone privacy?
A new Supreme Court ruling may change the way crimes are tackled in the United States – at least from the perspective of smartphones and gathering calling data. It appears obtaining information on cell site locations will now require a warrant, as not doing so will now be considered an invasion of someone’s privacy.
It can be remembered that like DNA, fingerprints, and lineups, smartphones have started to become common tools used in the fight against criminality. In fact, hundreds of law enforcement agencies and police ask the telecommunications companies of their home country to show records especially when someone’s mobile phone number has been recognized by nearby cell towers. This is the kind of information they can use to check just where a person has traveled for certain months, weeks, or days at a time.
Of course, people suspected for various crimes may or may not be innocent. And when it comes to crimes such as stalking, corruption, or even murder, being able to track down potential wrongdoers is essential to seeking justice. This is regardless of whether or not the person of interest involved are victims, witnesses, or suspects themselves.
Sometimes, these investigators don’t even ask judges for warrants to ask telecoms for this kind of information. These processes need them to explain in detail just how they will use this information to help solve the crime in question.
However, if a new ruling is to be read, this previous reality is due to a change. Under the new ruling, investigators will now need a warrant to be able to obtain information on cell site locations. This is because not doing so will be constituted as invasion of privacy, given this data can be used to track someone any time of the day. The court ruling said this practically becomes a way to provide “near-perfect” surveillance on someone’s movements.
This particular case in mind concerned someone named Timothy Carpenter from Michigan, who was convicted in various robberies. This was courtesy of the FBI using his smartphone’s location data to argue that Carpenter was near the various crime scenes when holdups happened – but this data can now be extended to anyone who has a smartphone in the United States. This is unprecedented, as more than 95-percent of adults in the United States actually have smartphones.
The ruling, in turn, effectively cements the provision of Fourth Amendment protection from obtaining location data from phones, which is one of the most invasive and common surveillance techniques up the government’s sleeve.
This can also pave the way for various restrictions as to the kinds of data law enforcement officers can actually seek and find – ranging from using phone application, internet browsing, or just even walking in front of cameras.
The ruling can potentially set new privacy standards in various aspects of a person’s life, especially when their digital lifestyles are starting to be put under scrutiny.
It can be remembered that seeking records of smartphone and cellphone use has become a standard protocol when it comes to solving criminal cases. This is because it’s an effective tool to determine the whereabouts of victims, corroborate stories of witnesses, verify informant tips, and evaluate leads.
Interestingly, it appears there really are hundreds of thousands of requests from law enforcement agencies to find smartphone data everyday. AT&T alone received more than 70,000 of these requests in a single year, and Verizon normally get 53,000 in a single one-year span.
Michael Price, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ senior litigation counsel, explained it’s very common for smartphone location data to be used as one of the primary investigative tools law enforcers use before getting evidence for arrests.
Some say mobile phone data also play a huge part in guilty pleas, as there really are instances where defendants just plead guilty when motions to suppress their mobile phone data have been rejected. Some defendants who were convicted through mobile phone data argued and failed when they explained their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. Now it appears the new legislation can help establish this.
Some also believe the new ruling can help cement the people’s free speech, as some think mobile phone data can be used to suppress dissent. For instance, when police arrested a lot of people who protested against President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, some prosecutors actually wanted to see how protesters have gathered and organized – something mobile phone data can greatly help with.
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