JD Insider | Cell Phones & Privacy

JD Insider | Cell Phones & Privacy

By Gianna N. McArthur

On this week’s episode of JD Insider, watch as Gianna teaches us the privacy concerns over cell-phone data use, and walks us through some cases which have set the legal precedent for individual privacy rights.

 

Cell phones and Privacy
By Gianna McArthur

Cell phones, more specifically smartphones are ubiquitous in culture. While cell phones have become essential to our everyday life, they also collect vast amounts of data about a user. In addition to everyday privacy concerns, the data cell phone’s collect during criminal activities and whether or not the government has access to the information has been the subject of different court cases. Chief Justice Roberts indicates that cell phones have many interrelated consequences of privacy:

(1) cell phones collect in one place many distinct types of information which reveals much more [about an individual] than any isolated record and

(2) a cell phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. “The sum of an individual’s private life can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions”…

(3) data on a phone can date back to the purchase of the phone, or even earlier

(4) there is an element of pervasiveness that characterizes cell phones but not physical records.

Mobile Apps also collect personal information about a phone user. Justice Alito stated in a concurrence that the average smartphone user has installed 33 apps which together can form a revealing montage of the user’s life. 2 Mobile applications can provide information about many facets of a person’s life such as political and religious affiliations; drug, alcohol and gambling addictions; romantic interests and various hobbies. These applications are collecting large amounts of personal data which could be available to those who seize and search a cell phone.

There are elements of privacy which are foundational to our government. The United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, which generally affords some privacy defenses. In addition to the Constitutional protections, the expectations of privacy of individuals was expanded upon in the Supreme Court Case Katz v. United States 3 . In Katz v. United States, federal agents placed a listening and recording device on the outside of a phone booth in order to capture the conversations of Charles Katz who was suspected of placing telephone bets. Katz moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the phone booth under the argument that the recordings were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. As a result of Katz v. United States the expectations of privacy were further developed and individuals should expect privacy when: (1) a person has exhibited an actual, subjective expectation of privacy and (2) the expectation is one that society recognizes as reasonable. The Supreme Court in Katz held that the information obtained by the government from the listening and recording devices placed on the phone booth “violated the privacy upon which [Katz] justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a ‘search and seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”

In June of 2018, the United States Supreme Court decided on Carpenter v. United States 4 which further expanded on the privacy rights of individuals. Carpenter v. United States focused on the government’s ability to seize an individual’s cell phone location records. In this case, law enforcement obtained Timothy Carpenter’s location related data from his cell phone provider. The defendant moved to suppress the data indicating that the seizure of the records without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment protections. The Court held that acquiring a defendant’s cell-site location information (CSLI) was a search under the Fourth Amendment and obtaining the information without a warrant violated the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Carpenter v. United States is important because it puts into perspective the data cell phones collect and how easily a person’s location information can be collected and stored.

In another Supreme Court case Riley v. California, 5 David Riley was stopped for a traffic violation and during the stop, the officer seized a cell phone from Riley’s pants and searched its contents. Riley moved to have the evidence found on the cell phone suppressed and the Supreme Court held that the police may not search an individual’s cell phone without a valid warrant.

These cases are important because cell phones store a great deal of information which can be accessible by different individuals including the government and law enforcement. While cell phone users are afforded certain privacy protections, users should remain cognizant of the amount of data cell phones collect and that when cell phones are searched they can provide a great deal of information about an individual.

1 Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014)

2 Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014)

3 Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)

4 Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018)

5 Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct 2473

 

Video Format
Cell phones and Privacy   

 

 

  • While cell phones have become essential to our everyday life, they also collect vast amounts of data about a user.

 

 

    1. In addition to everyday privacy concerns, the data cell phone’s collect during criminal activities and whether or not the government has access to the information has been the subject of different court cases.  
    2. Chief Justice Roberts has indicated that cell phones have many interrelated consequences of privacy, such as:
      1. cell phones collect many distinct types of information all in one place which reveals much more about an individual than an isolated record
      2. a cell phone’s data capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible.  “The sum of an individual’s private life can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions”…
      3. data on a phone can date back to the purchase of the phone, or even earlier  
      4. there is an element of pervasiveness that characterizes cell phones but not physical records.  
  •  Mobile Apps also collect personal information about a phone user.  As the average smartphone user has 33 apps installed, viewing these together can provide a cohesive image about many facets of a person’s life such as political and religions affiliations; drug, alcohol and gambling addictions; romantic interests and various hobbies.  

 

  • These applications are collecting large amounts of personal data which could be available to those who seize and search a cell phone. However, there are elements of privacy which are foundational to our government.

 

  • In addition to the United States Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, other cases have set privacy precedents.
  • Supreme Court Case Katz v. United States expanded the expectation of privacy rights of individuals in 1967 when The Supreme Court held that information obtained by the government from listening devices placed in a phonebooth violated the privacy upon which [Katz] justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a ‘search and seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”
  • In another Supreme Court case, Riley v. California in 2014, David Riley was stopped for a traffic violation and during the stop, the officer seized a cell phone from Riley’s pants and searched its contents.  Riley moved to have the evidence found on the cell phone suppressed and the Supreme Court held that the police may not search an individual’s cell phone without a valid warrant.

 

 

    1. Most recently, in June of 2018, the Supreme Court held that acquiring an individual’s cell-site location information (CSLI) without a warrant is a violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights in their decision of Carpenter v. United States.
    2. These cases set important legal precedents for at least some of the data cell phones store which is often obtained by hackers, the government and law enforcement.

 

  • While cell phone users are afforded certain privacy protections, users should remain cognizant of the amount of data cell phones collect and that when cell phones are searched, they can provide a great deal of information about an individual.

 

 

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