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End of Privacy

The End of Privacy: Carpenter vs. the United States, iPhones, and the Supreme Court

95% of Americans own a cell phone. People spend nearly 3 hours on their phone every single day. For many people, their phones are not just a way to communicate. They are almost a way of life. People conduct their business, look for love, and read the news all on their iPhones or Androids.

As Florida criminal defense lawyers, we want you to understand your rights. This is a major piece of news and could have massive implications for the future of criminal law.  In this post, we discuss the court case Carpenter vs. United States and what it means for you.

You should know that the police may be tracking you through your mobile device. They are not allowed to search certain things without a warrant, like text messages, but they can see your location at any time. Every time you use your cell phone, your device ‘pings’ a tower. Police trace and follow these specific pings and ultimately discover your habits.

Police can use these records in court. For example, if they discover that your cell phone pinged a tower next to a place where a crime occurred, a judge or jury may use that against you. The police have the right to ask a provider for their logs and use that information against everyday people. They do not need a warrant or your permission to get these logs. That, fundamentally, is what this case is about. Can police track your location using your phone without a search warrant?

Precedents and History

In the case of Smith vs. Maryland, the Supreme Court decided that people have no expectation of privacy when they voluntarily surrender to third parties. This established what is called the “third-party doctrine”.

In simpler terms, you are already giving certain information out to companies. You may logically assume that if you give information to a company, you cannot expect that information to remain private. If you give information to one person, you may be comfortable giving information to another.

Other cases support the notion that the police have a right to get this information without a warrant or consent. In United States vs. Miller, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement had a right to get certain banking records without a warrant.

Another relevant case is United States vs. Jones. In this case, the government attached a GPS device onto someone’s car without a warrant. Five justices declared that this violated property rights. Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that people do not expect that law enforcement can or should monitor people’s movements constantly.

The justices of the Supreme Court might also consider how many people use their cell phones. It is very difficult to opt out of using a smartphone. A lot of our laws were written at a time before everyone had a tracking device in their pocket. They may see it necessary to change the laws, as the trends have changed.

Possible Implications

If the court accepts the third-party doctrine, nearly all information that we post online is now up for grabs. People use sites like Facebook and Instagram, send messages through email, and are frequently active on their phones. Most of the communication we do on our mobile devices is done through a third-party, such as Google searches, which may be accessed without a warrant.

If the court decides that it is not acceptable for the government to use this data, it means that certain rights of ours are protected. Law enforcement would still have access to this information, but they would need a warrant or consent to get it, reinforcing our legal rights.

When involved in complicated legal matters, it is a good idea to hire a lawyer. Many people believe that just because they are innocent, they will not be penalized. This is not what happens in reality. If you committed the crime, you need a lawyer. If you did not commit the crime, you really need a lawyer.

The Berman Law Group can help you out. We have an experienced legal team that can help you out today. Our lawyers are reliable, relatable, and ready to fight for you. Call us at (800) 883-5206. You may have a case.