Most Americans understand the general protections offered by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its provisions are meant to guarantee the security of people, their homes, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Only a warrant, based on probable cause, is to give the government the power to override a person’s right to privacy.
The digital age, however, continues to offer new and increasingly ambiguous challenges to the application of law enforcement as it pertains to the Fourth Amendment. The latest example, involving the use of mobile phone records without a warrant, is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a case that is likely to set a precedent for many future decisions.
United States v. Quartavious Davis
Earlier this year, a federal appeals court in Florida ruled that the use of cell phone records obtained by court order did not violate a criminal defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision, relying on precedents set long before the proliferation of mobile technology. The court held that, by making phone call, a person gives up certain expectations of privacy, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1979 decision in Smith v. Maryland.
Known as a the “third-party doctrine,” the principles behind the court’s ruling have long established that information voluntarily shared with third parties, such as vendors and businesses, can be accessed by the government and law enforcement without requiring a warrant or probable cause. Critics of the appellate court decision, however, including the American Civil Liberties Union, point out that mobile cellular technology is significantly blurring the line regarding voluntarily-shared information. It is impossible for the average consumer to truly comprehend the amount and sensitivity of data being shared with mobile carriers and similar companies and thus should be afforded the protection promised by the Fourth Amendment.
Potential Scope of a Decision
With United States v. Davis on its way to the Supreme Court, it is interesting to consider how its outcome will affect future cases. If the High Court considers only the specific facts of this case, as opposed to the overarching implications, a decision may be fairly limited in scope. The issue regarding the Davis case is the access to the records of calls made and received, including times, dates, phone numbers, and the location of the cell towers utilized in making the calls. A ruling based solely on this type of information specifically is certainly important, but could fall short of a making a definitive statement.
This is because Davis does not include any reference to or use of GPS data which has become very significant part of mobile technology. Virtually all modern cell phones and mobile devices utilize global positioning systems that can be tracked and stored by wireless carriers and Internet service providers. The use of GPS tracking has been addressed by the Supreme Court before, but not in the context of mobile phone records. Several previous decisions have established that governmental GPS tracking is a form of search, which requires a warrant. How this precedent will coincide with mobile phone privacy in the years to come is likely to have a tremendous impact on the investigation techniques of law enforcement.
If you have been charged with any type of crime based on the results of an unreasonable search and seizure of your mobile phone or other personal property, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Hartford at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today. Our team is committed to helping you protect your rights and helping you achieve a positive resolution for your case. Call [[phone1]] to schedule your initial consultation.