Tech giants urge Supreme Court to improve cellphone privacy, stop warrantless location tracking
Firms argue that the Fourth Amendment needs to be adapted for modern timesBy Rob Thubron
Tech companies often get criticized for snooping on their customers, but many of these industry giants are now arguing for better privacy rights. They say that law enforcement shouldn't be able to access people's cellphone data without a warrant, and they're taking their objections to the US Supreme Court.
Over a dozen tech firms signed a 44-page amicus brief on Monday. They "believe the Court should refine the application of certain Fourth Amendment doctrines to ensure that the law realistically engages with Internet-based technologies and with people's expectations of privacy in their digital data."
Airbnb, Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest Labs, Oath (formerly Yahoo), Snap, Twitter, and Verizon - the only telecoms company to sign up - put their names on the amicus, which joins other friend-of-the-court briefs from media firms, academics, and advocacy groups.
The case in question involves an appeal by Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 of a series of armed robberies against Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores. In 2011, authorities obtained cell phone data from his wireless carrier - without a warrant - that placed him near several of the crimes using "cell site location information." He was later sentenced to 116 years in prison.
Carpenter says that the lack of a court warrant amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure - a violation of his fourth amendment rights. But an appeals court disagreed last year, ruling that no warrant was required.
The ACLU, which is representing Carpenter, is suing to have the location data removed as evidence. It said the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments this fall, adding that the companies' brief was a "robust defense of their customers' privacy rights in the digital age."
The brief also stated that most Americans presume these type of requests require a warrant. "No constitutional doctrine should presume that consumers assume the risk of warrantless government surveillance simply by using technologies that are beneficial and increasingly integrated into modern life," states the filing.