Supreme Court Will Decide The Fate Of Your Digital Privacy

from Axios

The future of digital privacy is up for grabs today at the Supreme Court, as the justices hear arguments in a landmark case about whether police can track the location of a cell phone without a warrant.

Why it matters: The tech industry’s most powerful companies argue that if police can access this information without a warrant, hardly anything will ever be private again. The justices clearly share some of those concerns — but their personal understanding of modern technology is on a collision course with the court’s past rulings. 

The big picture: The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that you don’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for data you voluntarily turn over to a third party.

  • In the ’70s, it said police could use a pen register — a device that records all numbers called from a particular telephone line — to log the numbers a suspect dialed from his landline phone, because he knew he was routing those calls through the phone company. A similar case allowed warrantless searches of bank records.
  • But here in 2017, almost everything we do involves transmitting data to a third party. As the ACLU put it in a brief to the high court, every day, millions of Americans disclose “their search queries to Google, their GPS coordinates and location history to Apple, Google, and Waze, their intimate photos to Apple or Flickr, and their medical queries to WebMD.”

More here.

Posted in Law, Privacy and tagged , , , .


  1. Privacy has been a concern for a very long time. Probably even longer than the 1970s, but in today’s world with digital technology, privacy becomes less and less. People talk to each other every day over media. Not only do they talk, but most post pictures and videos of their life every day. Nowadays just by going on the internet, you can find where someone lives, what they look like, how old they are, who they date, their interest, and who they talk too. It’s unsettling to think about. So many people do not even realize how much information they are sharing. The one thing that has stayed safe is text messages.
    If the court declares police can search your phone without a warrant is a huge invasion on our privacy. A lot of people keep pictures of their whole life on their phones. Not only pictures, but private messages and private notes. So much information is already shared on media, but some is meant to be kept private on digital devices. I think police having that power would get a little out of hand. People could get charged for something else completely unrelated to their original crime. If there’s something that’s known to be on someone’s phone that is going to cause harm than police should get a warrant like they do now. There’s already too many people in our correctional facilities for minor crimes which are paid with by our tax dollars. There needs to be at least a compromise for when cops do not need a warrant to go through someone’s digital device.
    Depending on the severity and context of why a cop needs to invade someone’s digital privacy without a warrant needs to be determined. This could mean that the cops come and a witness tells the police there is something illegal stored on a device. Or maybe it is considered a terroristic suspicion. Besides those scenarios, I do not clearly see why it is a cop’s business to go through somebody’s phone. Could that end up mean that you get pulled over for speeding, and the cop is going to check your phone to see if you used it while driving? That comes off as going to far for me. If they do agree that police can search a device without a warrant, then there needs to be limits at least.

  2. I would have never thought that our digital world would be up for debate on who can access it. It’s weird right? Our privacy online is up for debate, people who I don’t know what to decide whether i have the right to my privacy online? I can understand what the issue is. If anything happens it is easier just to have something searched then needing to make a search warrant. However, I wouldn’t want my things, including my cell phone search without one. Should it be okay? I don’t think so. I agree with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that the third party doctrine SHOULD be reevaluated. Yes; Apple, Google, and other platforms are third party but their job is secure our information. They pride themselves on keeping our stuff safe. When they make the decision in June I hope they rule that the police will need a warrant to search our devices. If they decide the other way, how would that affect us? I believe that our devices are like our homes. If we have the right to see a warrant before you enter my house, I would like a warrent for you to enter my cell phone. I, like most other people, have everything on my phone. It’s more convenient. I cannot think of a good reason for the police to look through my phone without reasonable cause.
    For example, let’s say Jeff are taking a test. John has a copy of the answers to the test and cheats. Jeff ends up with an amazing grade. However, the teacher expects that he has cheated because this test grade is better than what he usually has done. Does the teacher have the right to go through his books and folders to find the copy of answers? I don’t think so.
    This is the same for the police. If you do not give a reason (warrant) to go through someone’s device then you may not touch or go through said device. Reading other peoples comments on this article it seems like we are all on the same page with this issue. I wait til June to see the verdict and if they make the right decision or not.

  3. This article is bringing attention to something that once was. Privacy is the notion that what you do is held between you and you alone. Meghan Healy commented above that “with the increasing presence of social media, we gave up our privacy when we first start posting to these platforms as early as elementary school. This breach of privacy should almost come as no surprise” and I agree with her. We as a society have become so accustomed to having people know all the little things going on that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for people to follow our every move. With all the new technology entering into our lives we have to be vigilant in how it could be abused. There is an old saying from Robert A. Heinlein “You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.” It’s not hard to extend this principal to how technology can help law enforcement. Just as Alexa, Amazons voice activated home system is being called to serve as a witness in a murder trial in Little Rock, Ark. Here we can see the potential as a nation for our law enforcement system to become more effective, but what level of freedom would we have to give up. In getting Timothy Carpenters phone records the police didn’t need to get a warrant for his phone because the data was supplied by the cell towers that the company used. In the modern world we as consumers are generating data in quantities that the world has never seen before, and do we really want that data public? If a law agency is allowed to get my Cell-Tower records without a warrant what’s to stop them from deciding that they can track anyone they choose for any reason they choose? I think that as beneficial as it might be in enforcing the law and keeping criminals in check that the loss of liberty is too high.

    Ap. “Alexa a Witness to Murder? Prosecutors Seek Amazon Echo Data.”, Bloomberg, 28 Dec. 2016,

  4. I feel like the more and more technology advances the more and more privacy starts to become a major issue. Of course privacy is important but if people are putting themselves out there on social media platforms then shouldn’t they already assume the risk? Social media is not by any means private at all, it used to be but not anymore. The problem now arises with the invention of a screenshot.
    Just because someone might have their profile private does not by any means that it really is private. Anyone who follows the particular account could easily screenshot a post and send it out to anyone that they want. So is your account really private? I have had personal experience with this with someone had posted something very offensive on their finsta account, which is like their Instagram where they rant a lot, and all it took was one screenshot to get them in trouble. Honestly, the same goes for all types of social media accounts they are dangerous and people never will ever have privacy.
    I think the main think for people to consider when posting things or using social media in general is to think about if your mom saw it would she think it is ok? Being a college student I was told that and honestly it has made me rethink certain captions or even tweets from posting. The problem nowadays is that people do not think about their actions before they do them. Which then causes issues to arise and people to think that they did not do anything wrong. This is one of the reasons why the Supreme Court is now getting involved with the matter.

  5. There seems to be a common theme between the technology we use every day and questions about our privacy. Is there a line that is being crossed and should regulations be put in place to answer these questions? There is a tremendous amount of data that we provide to people that we don’t even know. Regardless, that doesn’t appear to stop many people from downloading the latest apps, so how much of an issue is it.
    In the case Carpenter v. United States, the question if cell phone records being retrieved without a warrant infringe upon our Fourth Amendment rights is asked ( The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government ( In April 2011, four men were arrested in connection with armed robberies. One of the suspects confessed and gave up the cell phone numbers of the other suspects. The FBI used the Stored Communications Act to obtain orders for the cell records of the other suspects ( Under this Act the disclosure order does not require probable cause and is released on reasonable grounds that the information is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.
    In this case a disclosure order under the SCA was used to obtain the information rather than a warrant. Carpenter’s claim is that the warrantless seizure and search of the cell phone records violated his Fourth Amendment rights. There have been many cases that provide precedents to situations that question the potential violation of the Fourth Amendment rights. A warrantless search may be lawful in one’s home if there is probable cause, Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) or if the search is incident to a lawful arrest United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973) ( However, these cases don’t involve technology as does Carpenter’s. I believe that there should be more evidence tying the suspect to the crime before this type of data can be retrieved. This case will be interesting to follow as the outcome will set a precedent for future cases that involve Fourth Amendment violations and technology.

  6. This article deciphers the issue of privacy if the police are able to track citizens cell phones without a warrant. There are mixed emotions about this argument. It is true that in many ways, privacy would be manipulated by the police if they access everybody’s phone, but they are just using it for judicial reasons. It is not like the police is trying to collect locations and information from third parties to stalk somebody; they are just doing their job when it comes to an investigation.
    This article also mentions that the ACLU represents Timothy Carpenter and pursued a claim for a series of records, in regards to Timothy Carpenter’s whereabouts and using nearby cell towers, was a violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights. This claim is an example of how technology advances everyday. With more of this technology pushing forward, the government is going to want to take advantage of the opportunity. In this case, the cell towers was helpful of capturing a criminal. I understand why it can cause chaos for constitutional rights but there are actual criminals that can be brought to justice with newly advance technology. Back in the 1970s, technology was much harder to handle when trying to find information; everything was manual or by-hand. In the present day, technology is invented to make things easier so of course police are going to use new technology when offered. Our cellphones hold a lot of information that some people do not know about. I didn’t know that anything we click on, like an ad or pop-up, holds that information and could be withheld against us in court if laws of needing a warrant for cell phones were not created. Thankfully in 2014, the supreme court ruled police has to have a warrant in hand to physically search cell phones. This increased difficulty for police but I understand that the government is trying to be safe from any legal allegations.
    In reality, generation Z is the industrial era that should be more concerned about this doctrine. Exceeded information is being transmitted online that someone can easily access, so it makes it harder for this generation to have privacy. Everyone in generation z has a cell phone to use the internet or social media. That information that is being transmitted to the internet or social media is a distribution of someone’s data, so privacy is given away by choice not default. But, if somebody is compromising criminal information or evidence on the internet, it is understandable if police want to take charge and look more thoroughly into the suspect.

  7. There is no doubt that technology has greatly enhanced our lives today.With that being said, I do believe that in this new age of social media, we should expect a certain degree of our privacy to be sacrificed. Everyday people post pictures and videos of themselves of what they are doing and where they are going for the public to see. I think that if the government wants to look at that information it should not be a problem. Law enforcement only tries to use this information to help prosecute criminals. If that is the case people who do not break the law should worry about their privacy being violated because law enforcement would not have a reason to go through your information. I do believe that if allowed to go through people’s information with no probable cause can lead to more extremes of more private information being looked at. I believe that the only way to navigate through this issue is as people today should be less reliant on storing digital information and posting on social media to reduce the amount of information can be looked at by law enforcement, the government, and other individuals who want to steal your information. I do not think a ruling or a change in behavior will change anytime soon when deciding about digital privacy.

  8. Privacy is one of the largest aspect to a persons life. The advancements in technology in modern times make it almost impossible to keep any information to yourself. Now, Google asks if you’d like to save your credit card information to your browser! This is a subject that I have found not many people know too much about. In a recent research project, I studies Terms and Conditions, and the lack of acknowledgement towards the content of these agreements. Very few people read them, and if they did, they’d know that by using certain sites or by clicking agree, you are volunteering your privacy information and data.

    As the article states, data and information is collected completing mundane tasks. Think about how many times you’re shopping for something on a computer then open social media on your phone and there is an ad for it. The third-party companies are sharing the data to best fit their consumers. There are people now that report Alexa consuming information that was not meant for her. In my opinion, this terrifies me. I like the idea of being able to obtain information in an emergency situation or to catch a criminal like in the article, but I do feel that there is too much being viewed that we aren’t even aware of. My hope for the future of this is that it will all become a little more transparent; it would be nice to see the information presented to consumers in a form other than legal jargon embedded in a 30 page policy agreement, that way consumers have a fair bit of information on what their allowing just by using an app or service.

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