The Cell Phone Location-tracking Case Before the Supreme Court Might Be a Big Deal

I began donating to the ACLU last November 9, and I remain happy with that decision. They are currently bringing the Carpenter v. U.S. case to the Supreme Court, and the way this case turns out could have a major impact on the privacy of all Americans who have cellular phones1. At issue, roughly speaking, is the fact that U.S. government—as well as state and local law enforcement agencies—are currently able to access the location data generated by your cellular phone anytime they want, without a warrant. ACLU explains the situation thusly:

Every time a cellphone makes or receives a call or text message or accesses a wireless data connection — as when it automatically checks for emails or social media messages — the phone company logs and retains a record of the phone’s location based on the cell tower and cellular antenna the phone was connected to. The volume and precision of that location data has increased over time, and today, cellphone location data can paint a detailed picture of where we go over the course of days, weeks, and months. The question in this case is whether the Fourth Amendment protects that data by requiring police to get a search warrant from a judge before requesting it from the phone company.

The fact that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is widely seen not to apply to our digital lives is nothing less than a travesty, and the sooner this mistake is corrected, we will have taken a major step toward living up to our own clearly stated ideals. If you are concerned at all about your privacy, keep your eye on this case—and consider sending the ACLU a few bucks to keep cases like this one in progress.

  1. The Pew Research Center states that 95% of Americans own some kind of a cell phone, so it's pretty safe to say that this case affects all of us.