Supreme Court expands Fourth Amendment privacy rights

Americans living in Minnesota and across the nation recently received important new privacy protections. On June 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, in most situations, law enforcement agencies are required to obtain a warrant before gaining access to someone's cell site location information, or CSLI. Some legal observers are calling the ruling the most important Fourth Amendment decision of the 21st century.

CSLI can pinpoint a cellphone user's location at any time of the day. As a result, law enforcement agencies have found the information useful for certain types of investigations, and, until now, they have been able to access the data if they can provide "reasonable grounds" for needing it. The case before the court involved a man who had been convicted of burglary partly because the police tracked his movements for 127 days using CSLI. The man argued authorities violated his privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment by accessing his CSLI data without a warrant. He further claimed that the Supreme Court's third-party doctrine, which holds that individuals lose their right to privacy when they voluntarily turn over information to third parties, should not apply in the highly invasive digital age.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the man. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that CSLI can track someone's every movement for years. As a result, the technology represents a privacy concern that is "far beyond" the scope of the cases previously decided by the court. Therefore, he wrote, CSLI data should be protected by the Fourth Amendment.

In some cases, law enforcement agencies violate a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights during a criminal investigation. When this happens, a criminal law attorney could work to get the charges dismissed.

Source: Slate, "A Historic Victory for Privacy", Mark Stern, June 22, 2018

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