“[A]n individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements” – Chief Justice John Roberts
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for a change in the law regulating the ability of police to search citizens’ phone records.
Since a 1979 ruling, which decided that citizens had no expectation of privacy for their phone records kept by a phone company, police have been able to search people’s phones without probable cause (strong evidence the person has committed a crime). However, police can still obtain records without a warrant in the case of an emergency, and they can search other items people carry without probable cause.
The court found that “an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements” as these movements are captured and recorded by phone companies.
The majority of the Supreme court framed the question in terms of a shift in the role and capabilities of technology, specifically cell phones and data collection and records, with one writing that a mobile phone was now “a feature of human anatomy” that “faithfully follows its owner beyond public thoroughfares and into private residences, doctor’s offices, political headquarters, and other potentially revealing locales” and “when the government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.”
The decision was 5-4.
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