Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Saturday, April 13, 2024

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will answer that question in an upcoming term, ultimately deciding whether law enforcement authorities should be required to get a warrant before they can track your location through your cellphone records.

Police can currently track your location using phone records with a law that was passed 13 years before the first BlackBerry was released.

The case comes to the justices through an appeal made by Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted for a series of armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio. Police were able to find Carpenter by looking into his past cellphone records without a warrant, which he claims to be a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

He’s right.

In a world where our smartphones are becoming a treasure trove of information about our personal lives, police should not be able to look into our digital history without a warrant.

There must be a process preventing such abuse of power from happening. Abuse such as former National Security Agency employees spying on their ex-girlfriends and husbands — without a warrant, of course.

As we outsource more of ourselves to our phones and onto the web, we should be fighting for more privacy protections, not less.

Although the ability to track suspects’ locations is a valuable tool for the police, it needs to be weighed against the right of privacy for the innocent people that will undoubtedly be surveilled without their knowing. Ask people how they feel about their digital privacy and most will talk about it as if zero privacy is a forgone conclusion. Many will also say they have nothing to hide, but that’s a topic for another time.

A provision of the Stored Communications Act in 1986 says the government doesn’t need to prove probable cause to obtain customer records from businesses like telecommunication companies — all it needs is “reasonable grounds” and proof the records are “relevant and material to the investigation.”

There is no way that congress could’ve imagined being able to find the locations of people by using signals that ping to and from cellphones back in 1986. The first commercially available cellphone (or commercially available brick) didn’t become available until 1983.

Police should not be able to retrieve text message logs (encrypted messaging services such as iMessage and WhatsApp can’t be obtained by police) whenever they please. They shouldn’t be able access to emails between two people without a warrant, either. But that’s a precedent the Supreme Court must set going forward.

This isn’t the highest court’s first rodeo when it comes to whether the police can track and spy on their suspects using today’s technology. Back in 2012, it ruled that police need to have a warrant in order to place a GPS tracking device on suspects’ vehicles. More recently, it decided that police may not search a suspect’s phone without a warrant.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

We should hope the Supreme Court decides in favor of our privacy. If it doesn’t, it may be a bad sign of where things are headed for those of us who value freedom from surveillance.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.