Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrants to Obtain a User's Smartphone Location Data

The United States Supreme Court today ruled that the government "is required" to obtain a warrant if it wants to gain access to data found on a civilian's smartphone, but only when it's related to the user's location data (via The New York Times).

United States Supreme Court Building


The decision is expected to have major implications for digital privacy moving forward as it pertains to legal cases, and could cause ripples in unlawful search and seizure cases that involve personal information held by companies like emails, texts, internet searches, bank records, and more.

In a major statement on privacy in the digital age, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the government generally needs a warrant to collect troves of location data about the customers of cellphone companies.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, 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.

Today's vote in the case Carpenter v. United States came down to a 5-4 ruling, and originally emerged from armed robberies of Radio Shacks and other stores in Detroit dating back to 2010.

In the case, prosecutors relied on "months of records" obtained from smartphone makers to help prove their case, ultimately showing communication between Timothy Ivory Carpenter outside of a robbery location -- with his smartphone nearby -- and his accomplices inside of the location. The companies reportedly turned over 127 days' worth of Carpenter's records, with information as specific as whether or not he slept at home on any given night or if he went to church on Sunday mornings.

This led to the question by the Supreme Court justices as to whether the prosecutors violated the Fourth Amendment in discovering so much data on Carpenter's movements. Now, police will have to receive a warrant issued by the court in order to obtain any smartphone data as it relates to the owner's location data.

As the case continued, Apple and other technology companies filed a brief in August 2017 arguing against "rigid analog-era" Fourth Amendment rules. The brief deliberately stayed neutral on the topic of choosing sides, but urged the Supreme Court to continue bringing the Fourth Amendment law into the modern era. The companies stated that customers should not be "forced to relinquish Fourth Amendment protections" against intrusion by the government, simply because they choose to use modern technology.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

BuffaloTF Avatar
34 months ago
I'm shocked this isn't a 9-0 slam dunk with a poster for it... how can we be so vocal about the 2nd Amendment, or the 1st... and not be equally as loud for the 4th? "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated"........... come on now.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
slimtastic Avatar
34 months ago
From the start, this should have ALWAYS required a warrant.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MaxxTraxx Avatar
34 months ago

Another 'liberal' case where Roberts sided for.

The Court could soon take a liberal turn if Roberts continues on his current trajectory, unless a liberal justice retires during Trump's presidency.

How is this a liberal decision? Generally curious.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
goonie4life9 Avatar
34 months ago
I wonder how long before Apple offers the ability to delete your location data, using a method similar to how you can clear your browser history.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ssgbryan Avatar
34 months ago
Because conservatives really don’t democracy.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
827538 Avatar
34 months ago

Another 'liberal' case where Roberts sided for.

The Court could soon take a liberal turn if Roberts continues on his current trajectory, unless a liberal justice retires during Trump's presidency.

What are you smoking?

This is something any person be it on the right or left of the political spectrum supports.

My extremely conservative Texan Christian wife is all for this. As I imagine so are most liberals. Not every issue is polarised. In fact if you stop swallowing party dogma and apply logic and common sense you would find most sides have a lot in common, they perhaps just see things being implemented in a different way.

No sane person wants the government to be allowed to invade their privacy without due cause, no one.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

lg wing

LG Considering Exit From Smartphone Business, Halts LCD Production for iPhone

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:38 am PST by
LG is considering exiting the smartphone business entirely amid declining shipments and accrued losses of $4.5 billion over the past five years (via The Korea Herald). LG CEO Kwon Bong-Seok cautioned staff earlier today that the company is re-evaluating its presence in the smartphone industry: Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about...
google maps detailed street level e1611052089473

Google Maps Gains Enhanced Street-Level Detail in Four Major Cities

Tuesday January 19, 2021 2:34 am PST by
Google Maps has quietly been updated to include significantly more detailed street-level information in a handful of key cities around the world. Upon zooming in, Google's maps for Central London, Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York now benefit from shapes and widths that match the scale of roads more accurately. Meanwhile, enhanced graphical representations of sidewalks, crosswalks,...
2019 mac pro side and front

Tim Cook Gifted Donald Trump 'First' 2019 Mac Pro

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:45 pm PST by
Apple CEO Tim Cook gifted former United States President Donald Trump with the first 2019 Mac Pro that came off of the assembly line in Austin, Texas, according to a financial disclosure report that was released today (via The Verge). "Mac Pro Computer, the first created at the Flex Factory in Austin, Texas," reads the entry, which values the machine at $5,999, the base price for a Mac Pro....
airpods max sim ejector

AirPods Max Headband Removable With Just a SIM Ejector Tool, Hinting at Interchangeable Headbands

Tuesday January 19, 2021 8:25 am PST by
It is possible to remove the headband of AirPods Max with just a standard SIM card ejector tool, hinting at the possibility of interchanging headbands to achieve a different colorway. Image via Prelook In December, MacRumors revealed the large variety of AirPods Max ear cushion color combinations when it became clear that they were magnetically attatched and available for sale separately....
iphone 5s black slate

Images of Unreleased iPhone 5s in Black and Slate Shared Online

Sunday January 17, 2021 9:47 am PST by
Twitter user @DongleBookPro has today shared images of a prototype iPhone 5s in an unreleased Black and Slate color. The iPhone 5s was launched in September 2013. The device featured Touch ID, a 64-bit processor, and a True Tone LED flash for the first time. Other new features included a five-element lens with an f/2.2 aperture, a 15 percent larger camera sensor, Burst Mode, and Slo-Mo...
iphone 12 vs iphone 12 mini

Apple Shifting Some Production From iPhone 12 mini to iPhone 12 Pro to Meet Demand

Wednesday January 20, 2021 8:12 am PST by
Apple has reportedly cut production of the iPhone 12 mini by two million units to create more manufacturing capacity for the iPhone 12 Pro, according to a new Morgan Stanley investment note seen by PED30. Apple is believed to have made the switch for the first quarter of 2021 in an effort to combat continuing lead times for the more popular iPhone 12 Pro. iPhone 12 Pro lead times remain ...
Apple VR Feature

Bloomberg: Apple's First AR/VR Headset 'Pricey, Niche Precursor' to More Ambitious AR Glasses and Could Launch Next Year

Thursday January 21, 2021 3:27 am PST by
Apple's first virtual reality headset will be a "pricey, niche precursor" to a more ambitious augmented reality product, according to a new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view...
shot on iphone 12 apple

Apple Highlights Photos Shot by iPhone 12 Users: Portraits, Cityscapes, and More

Tuesday January 19, 2021 6:05 am PST by
Apple today shared a gallery of photos shot by customers using the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max, with scenes including cityscapes, landscapes, portraits of people, and more at day and night. Shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by "NKCHU" in China (top) and shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by Rohit Vohra in India (bottom) iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 models have a dual camera ...
Apple and Hyundai feature

Apple Car Production Again Linked to Kia Motor's US Plant in Georgia

Tuesday January 19, 2021 4:19 am PST by
Hyundai intends to transition the company's Apple Car involvement to its Kia brand as part of an internal arrangement that could see production move to the U.S., according to a new report today. On Sunday, Korea IT News reported that Apple and Hyundai are seeking a partnership agreement for the upcoming Apple Car by March, and that the electric vehicles could be made at a Georgia factory...
iPhone 13 Notch Feature

iPhone 13 Rumored to Feature Smaller Notch, Pro Model Cameras to Use Larger Image Sensor

Thursday January 21, 2021 1:38 am PST by
Apple's iPhone 13 series will feature a redesigned Face ID system that will allow for a smaller notch at the top of the screen, according to a new report today. The rumor comes via hit-and-miss Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes, whose supply chain sources also claim that the ultra wide-angle lens in Apple's next-generation iPhones is due for an upgrade. The next-generation iPhones'...