In one of the most important Fourth Amendment battles of the digital age, the Supreme Court is preparing to tackle a case involving law enforcement accessing cellphone records without a warrant.
On Wednesday the US Supreme Court is scheduled to address the case of Carpenter v. United States to determine whether or not law enforcement should be required to obtain a warrant before accessing the cellphone records of an individual. The case deals with a set of armed robberies that took place between December 2010 and March 2011. Several men worked together to rob RadioShack and T-Mobile stores in the Michigan and Ohio areas, stealing cell phones and holding store employees and customers hostage in the process.
A couple of the men were arrested and quickly confessed afterwards. However, one man remained at large. With one of the suspect’s phones in their possession, the FBI gained access to”transactional records” from various wireless carriers for 16 different phone numbers contained within the phone. These records contained all the location info and call records made to and from the phone. Using the “cell-site records” pulled off the phone, the FBI was able to locate and arrest the final suspect, Timothy Carpenter. He was charged and convicted by a jury of aiding and abetting robbery that affected interstate commerce, and aiding and abetting the use or carriage of a firearm during a federal crime of violence. Carpenter now faces life in prison for his crimes.
The FBI gained access to the cell-site records using provision set forth by the Stored Communications Act, which was passed in 1986 to deal with the protection of information stored digitally.
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