The Supreme Court this week agreed to decide whether police must demonstrate probable cause that a crime has occurred before obtaining a suspect’s cellphone records. That might seem like a narrow question about police procedure. But if the justices think boldly, they can use this case to redefine the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures for a society in which technology has transformed traditional notions of privacy.
Timothy Carpenter was convicted of committing nine armed robberies in the Detroit area, partly on evidence investigators obtained from mobile phone networks showing that he made calls using towers near the robbery sites. The prosecutor told the jury that Carpenter was “right where the first robbery was at the exact time of the robbery, the exact sector.”
Carpenter’s number was among those obtained by the FBI from an admitted member of a robbery ring. Agents obtained data about Carpenter’s calling history and location from his wireless provider not with a warrant based on probable cause, but with a federal magistrate’s order based on the lesser standard — contained in the federal Stored Communications Act — that the government had “reasonable grounds” for believing that the records were “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.”
Read more at L.A. Times
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