With Carpenter v. United States, Supreme Court Edges Fourth Amendment Doctrine into the 21st Century

Late last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the government obtaining cell site location information (CSLI) from a telephone company constitutes a Fourth Amendment “search,” and requires a warrant. The 5-4 ruling in favor of petitioner Timothy Carpenter is the latest in a string of seminal data privacy cases working their way through the U.S. court system. Factual and Procedural Background In 2011, law enforcement officials arrested four men accused of robbing a series of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Detroit. Based on information and call records provided by a cooperating suspect, prosecutors applied for warrants to obtain the cell phone records of Timothy Carpenter and several other suspects under the Stored Communications Act (SCA). The court subsequently issued two orders compelling MetroPCS and Sprint, Carpenter’s cell phone providers, to disclose cell site location information for Carpenter’s cell phone. By triangulating thousands of disclosed…

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