By Safvan Allahverdi
The Supreme Court ruled Friday that the government cannot monitor people by tracking their movements through cellphone location feature without a search warrant.
“We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.
The Court's 5-4 decision is considered a major victory for advocates who uphold privacy particularly when it comes to the government obtaining information including locations, emails, text messages, internet searches, bank and credit card records from a third party such as a cell phone company.
Roberts, however, said the ruling was limited, depending on the type of the case.
“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,” he said.
The decision came after Timothy Ivory Carpenter, who was sentenced to 116 years in prison for his role in multiple robberies in Michigan and Ohio, appealed to the Court because the FBI obtained his phone data which showed his phone had been nearby when several of the robberies happened.
Cell tower records that investigators got without a warrant bolstered the case against Carpenter.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing Carpenter, claimed that a warrant would provide protection against unjustified government snooping.
As in thousands of cases each year, authorities were going to phone companies and obtaining information about the numbers dialed by a suspects without presenting a warrant.