In Carpenter Case, Justice Sotomayor Tries to Picture the Smartphone Future

from The New Yorker

“I am not beyond the belief that someday a provider could turn on my cell phone and listen to my conversations,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said on Wednesday, in the oral arguments in the case of Timothy Ivory Carpenter v. United States. She is correct; indeed, there have been indications that that day may have already arrived. And yet the government argued that when prosecutors—without a warrant—looked at some of the most intimate information that a cell-phone company can collect about its customers, they were not doing anything distinctly intrusive. The Carpenter case began with a string of robberies in which cell phones, of all things, were stolen from Radio Shacks and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio—not, in other words, a major terrorism or national-security case. One suspect turned over his phone, and on it prosecutors found that he had been in touch with Carpenter, who lived in Detroit. They then collected a hundred and twenty-seven days’ worth of Carpenter’s past cell-phone locations, revealing where and, by implication, with whom Carpenter had been at every moment of those four months. They were able to get that information with a simple order with a far lower standard than probable cause (which is what a warrant requires) and without anyone in law enforcement even having to swear out an affidavit. They used the information to convict Carpenter of six of the robberies; thanks to mandatory minimums, he was sentenced to a hundred and sixteen years in prison.

But, as Sotomayor and several other Justices pointed out—the oral arguments made it clear that both liberals and conservatives on the Court were troubled—prosecutors could, by the government’s standard, have asked for almost anything. Soon enough, they could ask for more than we can even imagine now. Nathan Wessler, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who was arguing Carpenter’s case, mentioned “information about the state of the body, like heart-rate data from a smart watch, or fertility-tracking data from a smartphone app; information about the interior of a home, for example, from a smart thermostat that knows when the homeowner is at home and perhaps what room they’re in.” Later, when Sotomayor was questioning Michael Dreeben, the government’s lawyer, she noted, “I don’t, but I know that most young people have the phones in the bed with them.”

More here.

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3 Responses to In Carpenter Case, Justice Sotomayor Tries to Picture the Smartphone Future

  1. Vincent Scorese December 8, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

    This is a very alarming and concerning article about the real privacy in a space where we thought we had more security and privacy from not only the government but also people around us. It also makes it even more concerning because of the fat that it was a United States Justice who was the one who was concerned. It also is a serious matter if people from separate parties can actually agree on a topic for once and that shows how serious this is going to get. I am afraid personally of the introduction of smart devices in my house like amazon Alexa because of the accessibility of those things like when i am or am not home or when I leave my house at certain times which could leave me to things like vulnerability to robberies or things like that. I am not a fan of the fact we have less privacy then we do and the introduction of the internet and the devices connected to it are making it harder and harder to get away from it and is putting us further away from more privacy if we even have any left.

    If the government wants to take a look at things like my heart rate or things in regards to my health does that mean they are going now to be able to try and force recommendations on what I should or should not do in regards to my health or how I want to live my life? There are things in which having less privacy gives more security in the sense that they are inverses of one another. If you want more security you have to give up more privacy and vice versa. Things like preventing terrorist attacks and things related to that are a pro in my opinion of an invasion of that privacy because they are saving people’s lives and making it safer however where does that line stop and who could use that information? Are criminals or other individuals who are technologically savvy able to take part in this information data splurge? In the hands of the right people the information is maybe okay but who is right and wrong people is completely unknown and I would like to keep my privacy and the right s to have that.

  2. Jimmy Bedoya December 8, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

    The evolution of technology often makes people reconsider whether or not they want to buy the new iPhone 8 along with the apple watch, or whether or not they should have a state of the art thermostat installed into their apartments or homes. At first, one might look at these devices as innovative and convenient to the consumer as well as the environment that he or she finds himself or herself in. It is significant, however, to take into account what exactly the evolution it is the technology is undergoing. Unfortunately, the evolution is one of intrusive and invading demeanor and is facing very controversial because people are not sure that they want to be monitored in such a close manner. The iPhone paired with the apple watch pose a threat to the average individual because they are going to be subject to facial recognition which could lead to issues of identity theft, and the apple watch also tracks where the individual is traveling too as well as how often he or she embarks on exercises. The state of the art thermostat can locate whether or not you are home and just exactly what room you are in. As one can see, these innovative devices serve a purpose far beyond its basic performances that are advertised so freely to the consumers of their choice. It is almost as if companies want you to be distracted by what the product was designed to do, and not what it can do.

    In the case of Carpenter v. the United States, there had been a string of robberies of cellphones and other devices from Radio Shacks and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio. In the case, a suspect in the case had stepped forward and turned in his phone not knowing of the government’s assertive capability to access data from anyone cellphones. Through his phone, the government was able to find phone history of the last past 127 days which consisted of cell-phone locations, showing where exactly Carpenter had been and with whom he had come in contact with and for what implication. However, according to the case, the government was able to access this information with a simple order someone else might regard to as a lower standard than probable cause, and without any affidavit from law enforcement. With the information, Carpenter was convicted of six counts of robberies all tied to each other. In his defense, Carpenter was trying to state that it was unjust for the government to access this information for it violated certain amendments and rights of privacy guaranteed to individuals of the United States. This than rose two important issues; how much the government is allowed to access before it starts being a violation of a person’s privacy and upon a decision of Carpenter vs the United States, would it be used in future cases to help resolve issues of privacy. I believe that there should be some restrictions on the government’s ability to invade a personal life but this can only be done by setting limitations on the technology. The moment a person buys the product they might be signing a contract that implicates the individual will be allowing the device to record information pertaining to the persons’ personal life. Thus if restrictions are applied there can be a limit placed on the government and then a case of probable cause is the only thing left to deal with.

  3. zonghao li December 8, 2017 at 8:59 pm #

    One of the aspects that could definitely use regulation is the academia world, where there are important issues of rising costs and massive student debt. As government pulls funds and control from universities and other institutions of higher education, schools given free reign to enforce their agenda. Unfortunately, the general trend[a] seems to be that the school’s policy direction is diverging from the original intention, which is to provide quality education. Instead, modern educational institutions compete with each other[b] to secure more students. One way of doing this is to build more and more buildings to provide a better image of grandeur. However, among all these new construction projects we need to ask ourselves where to draw the line between the university’s prestige and the quality of education given. We need to ask the question: how are these recreational and academics progressing the student’s learning?
    While many universities can continue to splurge because of their prestige and the increasing importance of a college degree, other less renowned universities[c] are having a hard time trying to keep up with the spending habits of their more prestigious counterparts. Or as Thomas H. Powell, Mt. St. Mary’s University president, puts it, “we borrowed a lot of money, but we had no choice, I wasn’t going to watch the buildings fall down.”
    Perhaps what this means is that the government needs to step in. With increased regulation and someone to look over the schools’ shoulders, at the very least the rampant tuition growth can be somewhat mitigated. One way can be to differentiate between the colleges that provide quality education, colleges that actually provide a public good. For example, there were lawsuits [d]concerning the legitimacy and ethical nature of for profit universities such as Trump University. Among concerns of whether or not for profit universities provide quality education are questions of ethical business practices such as enrolling students in courses that provide course material as advertised and permitting students who want to transfer out the appropriate credits for their work in the for profit college.
    In light of these controversial policies, I strongly believe that a system that promotes incentives to provide quality education through tax benefits would greatly alleviate the problem of outrageous tuition costs and stagnant if not downgrading education quality. As Congress discusses its new tax plan, they can allow universities that provide quality education to receive tax benefits while other universities, especially for profit universities, can be taxed. This way, both the US government and the students win; the US government gets more tax revenue while students enjoy better education.
    In our capitalistic society, incentive is the name of the game. Without government regulation, universities could just do whatever they want and unfortunately that means enforcing their own agendas which is to make the universities bigger to attract more students and more money. However, if there is some monetary incentive for universities to do their jobs, I’m sure we will see the trend shift because money is the lifeline needed to keep the universities running. Depending on how lenient Congress is, or rather, how politically feasible it is, the aforementioned tax penalty on colleges that don’t provide quality education can be closed down. Thus, in an ideal world, only the universities receiving tax benefits and maybe a few universities that remains even without receiving tax benefits remain to exist. Of course, as a policy this will be very hard to be approved political-wise, and there are also enforcement problems of the accuracy of regulatory agencies to determine the quality of education and who gets the tax benefits.
    In the end, it might not even be feasible. However, I still stand by my statement that providing incentives to better education quality and disincentives to bad education qualities will greatly alleviate the problem. In our capitalistic world, we are to a large extent free to do what we want, and if there are incentives to help push us a certain way, we will certainly see a new trend.

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