U.S. Supreme Court Rules the Police Must Obtain a Warrant to Obtain Smartphone Owner’s Location Data


In a major privacy decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that, in general, warrants are required to collect cellphone data.

The New York Times has a full report on the decision. The Justices ruled 5-4, which will have a direct impact on personal information that can be accessed by third-parties. That includes bank information, internet search history, location, financial records, and more. The initial court case that led to the Supreme Court’s weighing in dates back to 2010.

“We hold only that a warrant is required in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party,” the chief justice wrote. The court’s four more liberal justices joined his opinion.”

That case back in 2010 was regarding a series of armed robberies, which the prosecutors used data that was collected from wireless providers to bring about a conviction.

The question for the Justices in this decision regarded the Fourth Amendment, and whether or not the prosecutor violated it in their discovery of so much location data. This decision means that police will need to acquire a warrant if they want to obtain any smartphone data that pertains to location data.

Apple, for its part, did file a brief with a collection of other companies back in 2017, in an effort to fight against what it called “rigid analog-era” Fourth Amendment rules. Unsurprisingly, the companies did not weigh in on any specific side, but did aim to get the Justices to push the Fourth Amendment into the modern age, rather than keep it held down in the past.

[via The New York Times; U.S. Supreme Court]

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