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US Supreme Court rules in favour of warrant for cell site location data

Joint IIC - Italian Chapter and Agcom workshop

In a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court has decided that the government generally needs a warrant in order to access cell site location information, which is automatically generated whenever a mobile phone connects to a cell tower and is stored by wireless carriers for years, reports Wired.

“We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “In light of the deeply revealing nature of CSLI [cell site location information], its depth, breadth, and comprehensive reach, and the inescapable and automatic nature of its collection, the fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection.” The court’s ruling represents a win for digital privacy advocates, and, while narrow, it may have implications for all sorts of information held by third parties, including browsing data, text messages, emails, and bank records. “The government can no longer claim that the mere act of using technology eliminates the Fourth Amendment’s protections. Today’s decision rightly recognises the need to protect the highly sensitive location data from our cell phones, but it also provides a path forward for safeguarding other sensitive digital information in future cases – from our emails, smart-home appliances, and technology that is yet to be invented,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case before the court, said in a statement. At issue was an antiquated legal principle called the third-party doctrine, which holds that information customers voluntarily provide to a third party, such as a telecoms company or a bank, is outside the bounds of Fourth Amendment protections. The doctrine comes from United States vs Miller, a 1976 case in which the court ruled that law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant in order to access bank records because “the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party”. See more

  • Monday, 25 June 2018

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