The U.S. Supreme Court said today it would decide whether law enforcement needs to get a warrant before it tracks someone’s location via cell phone data. As anyone who listened to Serial or watches enough Law & Order knows, when a cell phone is used for calls or text messages, it pings nearby cell towers to connect with the telephone network. As the user travels, the phone pings off of various cell towers, creating a de facto map of the user’s movements. That data is stored by cell companies. Civil liberty groups believe such data is private and police should have to prove probable cause to get a warrant to search through such data, but so far courts have disagreed.
In Carpenter v. United States, SCOTUS will look at the case of Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted of six robberies after cell phone records placed him near the sites of four of them. A federal appeals court upheld the conviction, as reported by NBC News, ruling that cell phone users have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their cell phone records based on a 1986 law on stored records. The ACLU is representing Carpenter and believes that the law needs to reflect the realities of the digital age. Now, the Supreme Court will finally weigh in. Read more about the case here.