TIMOTHY CARPENTER, a Michigan man, had a habit of stealing smartphones from Radio Shacks and T-Mobile stores; his own phone provided the evidence authorities needed to nab him. On June 5th, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Mr Carpenter’s complaint that his privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated when his phone company shared data on his whereabouts with law-enforcement agents. This information, he says, should never have been introduced at his trial. When the justices return to work in the autumn (after a break that begins in July), they will consider Carpenter v United States and puzzle over the implications of an 18th-century rule for a distinctly 21st-century reality.
In 2011, when Mr Carpenter was arrested for organising a series of armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio, the FBI built its case on 127 days of historical cell tower data showing where he was at the times when the crimes took place. This information was retrieved under the Stored Communications Act, a law permitting phone companies to divulge…Continue reading