What’s left for digital privacy?

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2016, file photo an iPhone is seen in Washington. The Supreme Court is hearing a case on Nov. 29, 2017, is taking up a case about privacy rights that could limit the government’s ability to track Americans’ movements in the digital age. (Carolyn Kaster, File/AP)

Could an armed robbery of a Radio Shack in Detroit that took place in 2010 shift today’s policies on digital privacy? As the robbers stole cellphones from the store, could it be their own cellphones that aid in their conviction?

The digital privacy of one’s cellphone has become a pressing debate in recent years for several reasons. Each cell phone has a tracking device attached to it, keeping private records of its, and therefore the owner’s, whereabouts. No matter where a cell phone goes, it will attach to the nearest cell tower and track a general location.

This of course, is of great use to law enforcement when investigating the Radio Shack robbery, but to what extent can they search an individual’s cell phone?

The robbery was brought back into light this week when the Supreme Court began the case Carpenter vs. the United States on Nov. 29. Now, nearly eight years later, the Supreme Court will decide whether the prosecutors violated the Fourth Amendment.

“Carpenter could be the most important electronic privacy case of the 21st century,” said Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the nonprofit National Constitution Center.

The case was brought to court because Carpenter’s phone was searched without the police first receiving a probable cause warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union, along with other institutions, argue that the government did in fact violate the Fourth Amendment right by not obtaining that warrant.

The Fourth Amendment should be readjusted to further ensure the right to digital privacy. The police violated Carpenter’s rights by searching his phone without first obtaining a search warrant. Without that warrant, the police shouldn’t have gathered the information off his phone, despite this being the reason for Carpenter’s conviction.

No matter the decision made by the Supreme Court, policies need to be continually revised to include the massive changes in technology that we have witnessed in recent years.

The case is expected to have a decision by June 2018.


Emma DeGrandi is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at emma.degrandi@uconn.edu.