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Digital rights debate continues as SCOTUS decides new cell phone privacy case

A view of  cellular communication towers on March 6, 2014 in Emeryville, California.
A view of cellular communication towers on March 6, 2014 in Emeryville, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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In yet another case weighing the investigative needs of law enforcement against the public’s right to privacy, the Supreme Court of the United States will rule on whether police need to provide evidence of a crime before getting access to location data from cell phone towers that might help them figure out where a suspect is.

Unlike similar Supreme Court cases, this case doesn’t have to do with personal information or correspondence stored on a mobile phone. The high court ruled three years ago that police must show probable cause to get a warrant to download someone’s cell phone data. In this case, Carpenter v. United States, at issue is the degree of proof that a crime has been committed that law enforcement must show a judge in order to get a court order to obtain cell phone records. Current federal law says that police must have reasonable grounds to think the records are pertinent to the ongoing investigation of a crime. Privacy advocates say that the law should require probable cause that a crime was committed before access to cell phone records is granted.

Do you think that using cell phone records to track a criminal suspect’s location violates personal privacy if the police followed the law to obtain them?


Rebecca Lonergan, law professor at USC focusing on national security law, and former federal prosecutor for 20 years; she was with the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles from 1991-2007

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project; he tweets @natewessler