Judiciary Is Playing Catch Up When It Comes to Invading Privacy With These


Technology is ever changing. The computer you bought last year will be somehow outdated by this year. In such a fast-paced environment, the court system, which is inherently slow moving, has a hard time keeping up.

This can be seen when it comes to issues of privacy, policing, and the Constitution. Technological advances provide police with countless new opportunities and tools in their efforts to stop criminal behavior. While technology proves a valuable tool for law enforcement, at what point does the use of things like, cell phone location tracking, cross the Constitutional line and become a violation?

The Court is set to hear a case this week addressing exactly that question. Carpenter v. United States is a case that asks the Court to decide if law enforcement should be required to obtain a warrant before tracking a person using their cell phone location.

While a decision in Carpenter might set a precedent for increased location privacy, with the rapid pace of technological advancement, it is sure to be a step in the right direction. A person’s location can be quite revealing. Not only might your location tell law enforcement where you are, but it can also tell law enforcement your beliefs, your priorities, your group affiliations, your intimate relationships, and your employment circumstances.

Before Carpenter, there was another important location privacy case decided by the Court. In U.S. v. Jones, the Court held that law enforcement must have a warrant to attach a GPS location tracking device to a person’s vehicle.

In the Court’s opinion, they state that the warrant was required to physically place the GPS, as that was the focus, the decision does not protect location privacy using cellphones for example. This is yet another example of the changing technology proving problematic for courts.

The tracking issue in Jones occurred in 2005 when this type of tracking was commonplace. The Supreme Court did not rule on the case until 2012, at which time the use of GPS devices on cars was largely replaced with the use of cellphone tracking.

Cellphone tracking is hugely cost-effective and returns a treasure trove of information for law enforcement, so it is no wonder that hundreds of thousands of orders for cellphone location data are issued, often without a warrant. Cellphone carriers are then compelled to hand over the data that is necessary for the operation of the phones people use every day.

Location privacy is an issue no one was particularly concerned about even 20 years ago, but with technology that moves quickly, the courts are forced to play catch up, to protect the Constitutional right to privacy of Americans.

Featured Image Via YouTube Video