The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on a case addressing whether law enforcement should be require to obtain a warrant before accessing cell tower data, which can include location information relevant to criminal investigations.
The case in question is an appeal brought by a man named Timothy Carpenter who is serving a lengthy sentence for multiple armed robberies. Prosecutors obtained Carpenter's conviction in part by using cell tower data to place his smartphone near Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores at the time of the robberies. The records were reviewed without a warrant and covered 127 days of Carpenter's movements, including activities unrelated to the crimes.
The Trump administration as well as 19 states want the court to maintain the status quo, arguing that tower data should not be covered by the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections but rather treated like call records from a landline. Privacy advocates note the data obtainable from a cell tower, like the phone's movements, is far more significant than a simple list of numbers dialed.