SCOTUS Taking Up Cellphone Tower Case

High court will consider whether police need warrants
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 5, 2017 12:46 PM CDT
SCOTUS Taking Up Cellphone Tower Case
In this photo taken April 4, 2017, the Supreme Court Building is seen in Washington.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a new case about digital age technology and privacy, the Supreme Court will consider whether police need warrants to review cellphone tower records that help them track the location of criminal suspects, the AP reports. The justices agreed Monday to hear an appeal from Timothy Carpenter, who was sentenced to 116 years in prison after being convicted of armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio. Police obtained records from cellular service providers that placed Carpenter's cellphone in the vicinity of the robberies. The question is whether police should have to demonstrate to a judge that they have good reason, or probable cause, to believe Carpenter was involved in the crime. Police obtained the records by meeting a lower standard of proof.

Courts around the country have wrestled with the issue. The most relevant Supreme Court case is nearly 40 years old, before the dawn of the digital age. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that police did not need a judge-issued warrant. Police learned of Carpenter's involvement in the robberies after a confession by another person involved. They got an order for cellphone tower data for Carpenter's phone, which shows which towers a phone has connected with when used in a call. The records help approximate someone's location. Nathan Freed Wessler, the ACLU lawyer representing Carpenter, said the high court should apply constitutional privacy protections to digital records. "Because cellphone location records can reveal countless private details of our lives, police should only be able to access them by getting a warrant based on probable cause," Wessler said. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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