In a major statement on privacy in the digital age, the Supreme Court ruled Friday that the government generally needs a warrant to collect troves of location data about the customers of cellphone companies.
The 5-4 decision has implications for all kinds of personal information held by third parties, including email and text messages, internet searches, and bank and credit card records, writes Adam Liptak at bizjournals.com.
Writing for the majority, however, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the decision was limited.
“We hold only that a warrant is required in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party,” the chief justice wrote.
The court’s four more liberal justices joined his opinion.
The case, Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402, arose from armed robberies of Radio Shacks and other stores in the Detroit area starting in 2010.
Witnesses said that Timothy Ivory Carpenter had planned the robberies, supplied guns and served as lookout, typically waiting in a stolen car across the street. The question for the justices was whether prosecutors violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, by collecting vast amounts of data from cellphone companies showing Carpenter’s movements.
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