Law enforcement cannot search U.S. citizens’ homes without a warrant, but no such privacy protections exist for citizens’ cell phones. A group of major U.S. tech companies filed a Supreme Court briefing Monday seeking to close this privacy gap and ensure against warrantless government searches of cell phone data, as well.
The companies include Apple, Facebook, and Google. Twitter, Verizon, Microsoft, and Snap were also party to the case. Together, the companies filed a brief in Carpenter v.. United States in which they argued that the fourth amendment, which safeguards citizens from “unwarranted searches and seizures,” should apply to searches and seizures of cell phones and their stored data.
“Whether email, cloud computing, location-based tracking, or any other digital functionality is at issue, users consider many types of collected electronic data to be private—particularly given the personal details that information can reveal—regardless of whether transmission to a third party has occurred behind the scenes in the creation or processing of that data,” the group wrote.
The case’s namesake is Timothy Carpenter, whom authorities convicted of a series of armed robberies after examining location data from his and his accomplices’ cell phones. The officers involved obtained the phone data from the service providers without a warrant.
The brief made no statement on Carpenter’s innocence or guilt. It argued that any customer–even those suspected of illegal activity–need to disclose personal data to their service providers but that they deserve due privacy and the right to protect their data from “other parties, including the government.”