Programmatic Lunch

Tech giants ask Supreme Court for more cellphone data protection

Tyrone Stewart

US Supreme CourtA group of tech companies, including industry giants Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Snap, and US wireless communications giant Verizon have filed a brief with the US Supreme Court urging it to be made more difficult for the government to access people’s cell phone data.

The 44-page brief surrounds the issue of whether or not police should require a warrant to obtain location information, which has arisen in the case of Carpenter v. United States. In that case, Timothy Caprpenter, having been convicted of a series of armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Ohio and Michigan, appealed the decision on the grounds that the way the police obtained his location data breaches the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.

The group of companies, which all signed the brief, say they do not take a position on the outcome of the case but “believe Fourth Amendment protections for digital data should be strong,” the brief states. “Rigid rules such as the third-party doctrine and the content/noncontent distinction make little sense in the context of digital technologies and should yield to a more nuanced understanding of reasonable expectations of privacy, including consideration of the sensitivity of the data and the circumstances under which such data is collected by or disclosed to third parties as part of people’s participation in today’s digital world.”

The brief continues: “The Court should refine the application of certain Fourth Amendment doctrines to ensure that the law realistically engages with Internet-based technologies and with people’s expectations of privacy in their digital data.  Doing so would reflect this Court’s consistent recognition that Fourth Amendment protections, governed as they are by reasonable expectations of privacy, must respond to changes in technology that implicate privacy.”