Supreme Court will hear very successful privacy case



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WASHINGTON – Like most Americans, thieves tend to carry cell phones with them to work.

When they use their phones at work, the police find it easier to do their job. They can obtain cell phone tower records that help locate suspects in the vicinity of crimes, and do so thousands of times a year.

Activists from across the political spectrum, media organizations and technology experts are among those who argue that it is too easy for authorities to learn revealing details of the lives of Americans simply by examining the records kept by Verizon, T- Mobile and other cell phone service companies.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears its last case on privacy in the digital age. The question is whether the police generally need an order to review the records.

Left and right judges have recognized that technology has altered privacy concerns.

The court will hear arguments on an appeal from federal prison inmate Timothy Carpenter. He is serving a sentence of 116 years after a jury convicted him of armed robbery in the Detroit area and northwest Ohio.

The researchers helped build their case by comparing the use of their smart phone with carpenter in cell towers near the Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores that had been stolen. The question is whether prosecutors should have been forced to convince a judge that they had good reasons, or probable cause, to believe that Carpenter was involved in the crime. That is the standard established in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which also prohibits unreasonable searches. Prosecutors obtained the records by meeting a lower test standard.

The Union of American Civil Liberties, on behalf of Carpenter, said in court documents that the records "make it possible to reconstruct in detail everywhere an individual has traveled for hours, days, weeks." or months "

In Carpenter's case, authorities obtained cell phone records for 127 days and were able to determine when he slept at home and where he attended church on Sunday," said Nathan Freed Wessler of the ACLU.

The whole country has struggled with the problem The most relevant case of the Supreme Court is almost 40 years old, before the beginning of the digital era, and the law on which prosecutors depended to obtain records dates back to 1986, when few people had cell phones.

The judge in Carpenter's trial refused to suppress the records, and a federal appeals court agreed.The Trump administration said that the decisions of the lower court should be maintained.

Nineteen states that support The administration said that the records "are an indispensable component" in many investigations, and there is no evidence that the records have been used in any way. Neglecting and requiring an order for them would result in more unresolved crimes, the states said.

The administration relied in part on a 1979 Supreme Court decision that treated phone records differently than telephone conversation, for which an order is generally required.

The court said in Smith v. Maryland that phone users do not have privacy rights to the numbers they dial. Not only must the court complete the call using its equipment, but it also records calls for billing purposes and other purposes, the court said.

But that case involved an individual residential telephone.

More recently, the judges have recognized that the wonders of technology can also affect the privacy of Americans, and they also had trouble reaching the right balance.

Speaking in New Zealand last summer, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said that he and his colleagues are not experts in the field change. But he also reaffirmed his view expressed in a 2014 opinion that generally requires police to obtain an order to search cell phones of people they arrest.

"I'll say it here: Would you rather have the police rummage around at your desk, crate at home, or rummage through your iPhone?" Roberts asked. "I mean, there's a lot more private information on the iPhone than in most of the drawers."

Judges Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor have also written about their concerns about the effect of technology on privacy.

In the same 2014 case, Alito said that Congress is better placed than the courts to address concerns. Two years earlier, Sotomayor said the court might need to align its views with the digital era. "For once, I doubt that people will accept without complaint the disclosure without judicial order to the Government of a list of all the websites they visited in the last week, month or year," he wrote in a 2012 case about the police installation of a tracking device in a car without authorization.

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