The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an organization concerned with the preservation of the civil liberties guaranteed by law in the United States. The ACLU is involved in lobbying and litigation, providing legal assistant when civil rights of individuals seem to be violated. One of the ACLU and the Supreme Court cases, presented under the name Carpenter v. United States, revolves around location tracking and privacy issue. This paper aims to discuss a Supreme Court case involving the violation of privacy as a constitutional principle and analyze the Supreme Court’s role in the case.
To begin with, it is necessary to introduce the case and present its background. During the criminal investigation process, the government accessed cell phone location data of one of the suspects, Timothy Carpenter. According to Carpenter v United States (2018), “12,898 separate points of location data—an average of 101 each day over the course of four months” were revealed (para. 2). At the same time, no warrant was obtained by the government prior to the search. The suspect was eventually convicted at trial, and the cell phone data contributed significantly to the evidence. Hence, the case raised a concern about civil rights violation during the investigation.
The civil liberty addressed in the case guarantees an individual’s security against unjustified property searches and seizures and refers to the Fourth Amendment. As per Legal Information Institute (n.d.), it states “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” (para. 2). Given the content of the Amendment, the legality of the government’s decision was questioned by the ACLU.
It is crucial to consider how the case moved through the courts until it was heard by the Supreme Court. After the issuance of the judgement, Carpenter appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the district court’s denial to suppress the use of his cell phone location data. He argued that his right to privacy was violated in this case. However, the authority did not find this act unconstitutional since the records were not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Privacy as a term is not mentioned in the text, but an individual expects their location records not to be held and used by a third party. Besides, location records are automatically transferred to cell towers if the device is active, and it is critical to consider whether such specific data can be accessed without a warrant.
The ACLU is engaged in cases where civil liberties appear to be violated. Hence, as the district court denied Carpenter’s motion, the ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae stating the government’s violation of the Fourth Amendment (Carpenter v United States, 2018). As found in Carpenter v United States (2018), since the Sixth Circuit concluded that no warrant was required, “the ACLU became co-counsel with Carpenter’s defense attorney” (para. 4). The Supreme Court then heard the case and ruled that the government needs a warrant to access cell phone location records. It was argued that obtaining such data is a search, and as per the Fourth Amendment, a permit should be issued based on a particular cause. Therefore, this decision was crucial since it addressed a controversial issue and confronted two opposite opinions.
The ruling by the Supreme Court was significant since it extended the meaning of the terms stated in the Fourth Amendment. Namely, device location records refer to the data which is kept by phone companies and, thus, can be accessed by a third party. Therefore, it is crucial to define this type of data as private and promote the necessity of a warrant in case the data is needed for a criminal investigation. By its ruling, the Supreme Court stated that permission for a search should be obtained. Besides, it must be supported by purpose explanation and a detailed description of the data to be accessed.
The powers granted to the Supreme Court by the Constitution allowed it to consider the parties’ concerns and rule on the case. They include the judicial power and the ability to declare an act of the violation of the Constitution. Therefore, even though the act of violation was not specified in the Bill of Rights’ body explicitly, the Supreme Court could base its decision on the definitions and terms identified in the Fourth Amendment. For each case investigated, a detailed explanation of the need for the personal data must be presented.
To sum up, a Supreme Court case concerning the issues of location tracking, privacy, and technology is discussed in this paper. A case was highlighted by the American Civil Liberties Union and ruled on by the Supreme Court. It can be concluded that it is crucial to preserve civil liberties guaranteed by law and investigate cases in which they might have been violated. In doing so, the Supreme Court can control the power of local courts and rule on the controversial cases, basing their decisions on the Constitution.
Carpenter v United States (2018), 585 U.S. (16-402).
Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Fourth Amendment. Web.