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A New Supreme Court Case Could Reshape Cellphone Privacy Laws

The court has agreed to hear a case that could change how police get location data from cellphone companies.
Posted at 8:34 PM, Jun 05, 2017

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could determine how law enforcement obtains cellphone records in the future. 

The case they're hearing revolves around a man accused of stealing a lot of smartphones across Ohio and Michigan. In his original trial, police used his cellphone location information as evidence he was in the area at the time of the robberies.

Right now, police don't need a warrant to get location information from a service provider. They just have to have a good reason to ask for that information.

The "Stored Communications Act" allows law enforcement officials to ask phone companies to give the government information so long as they think there's reason to believe the information is relevant to the investigation.

An appeals court that reviewed the case decided requesting a suspect's location data wasn't a "search," so no warrant was needed.

The appeals court also determined there was no expectation of privacy for data collected by phone companies during the normal course of business.

Despite that, the Supreme Court has picked up the case. The justices have shown willingness to buck existing law enforcement and privacy norms. Three years ago, they decided warrants were necessary to search a suspect's cell phone.