OLG LEGAL COMMENTARY:
OLG Founder & Managing Partner
In today’s society, cell phones are like an appendage. People sleep with their phone by their side and rarely leave home without it. Unsurprisingly, police utilized this ever present companion as a significant investigative tool, with help from the Third Party Doctrine. In brief, the third party doctrine states that a person has no right to privacy when they voluntarily turn over information to a third party, such as a cell phone company, so the police do not require a warrant to access the information. But what about cell phone location data? Should a demand for a person’s location without a warrant constitute invasion of privacy?
The Carpenter Case
Such was the case while investigating Timothy Carpenter for a series of robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile. Mr. Carpenter’s investigation was not unusual; cell phone companies received tens of thousands of demands for location data in 2016. In June of 2018, the Supreme Court changed the rules of engagement in a highly debated 5-4 ruling; cell phone location data is subject to the protection of the Fourth Amendment of the constitution.
The Supreme Court stated in the ruling that their decision was a narrow one, but it has tremendous implications for privacy in the digital age. Carpenter’s case before the Supreme Court brought to attention the hole in the 4th Amendment. Although the Third-Party Doctrine properly addressed the concerns at the time of its conception 40 years ago, it does not sufficiently rectify the growing rift between law and technology.
Is Digital Location Tracking Invasion of Privacy?
One such flaw addressed by the court is the lack of voluntary conveyance, which is required for the Third Party Doctrine. Cell phones log a location data without affirmative acts on part of the user. The committee for Justice went on to say “Incredibly deep reservoirs of information are constantly collected by third-party services providers today… This trend will only accelerate as the ‘Internet of Things’ supplies data revealing more and more of our activities – even use of our household appliances – to third party providers.”
While deciding on warrants and cell phone tracking, the court’s also touched on individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Justice Sonia Sotomayor went on to say “Most Americans, I still think, want to avoid Big Brother. They want to avoid the concept that government will be able to see and locate you anywhere you are, at any point in time.” Justice John Roberts also described cellphone location information as “a near perfect tool” for surveillance. This does not preclude law enforcement from accessing this data, but it does require a warrant to prevent the acquisition of the location data from being invasion of privacy.
Therefore, legitimate law enforcement tools are being eliminated, so much as safeguards are put in place for the population in general. If law enforcement could constantly track subject’s every movement with such ease and accuracy without legal implications, constitutional rights, such as freedom of assembly, would be heavily threatened. In this decision, voted on across party lines, the Supreme Court created a landmark decision which protects individual’s privacy in the modern era.
Jennifer Englert is the managing partner and founder of The Orlando Law Group, PL. For over 15 years, she has focused on business disputes, business law, general civil litigation, special needs & education law, family law, personal injury, and real estate. She has represented entities and individuals in both federal and state trial and appellate courts.
Founded in 2009, The Orlando Law Group, has been named one of the fastest-growing law firms in Central Florida and through America [ranked No. 105 among the top 500 fastest-growing law firms in the United States, per the 2017 Law Firm 500]. It has earned a reputation as the Orlando-area law firm that cares about its clients and the communities it serves. Offices located throughout Orange and Seminole counties. To contact Englert, or for more information about The Orlando Law Group, please visit www.TheOrlandoLawGroup.com or phone 407-512-4394.