Supreme Court case will define use of cell-site data in investigations


The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will be of interest to public entity pools covering law enforcement agencies. 

United States v. Carpenter will determine whether law enforcement officers must obtain warrants before acquiring cell-site data from wireless providers as part of an investigation.

The case stems from a 2011 investigation into a series of burglaries in the Detroit area. Guided by their interpretation of the Stored Communications Act, law enforcement officers obtained cell-site data to place the defendants in the location of the burglaries. The Stored Communications Act requires "reasonable ground" for obtaining such records. However, the two defendants argue their Fourth Amendment rights were violated, as investigators did not obtain a warrant for the records.

The Sixth Circuit ruled that obtaining cell-site data did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment, because the Fourth Amendment covers "content" but not "routing information." Further, the lower court noted that cell-site data is considered business records obtained from a third party, and there is a lower expectation of privacy for those types of records.
The case is not yet scheduled. 

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