Silicon Valley presses US Supreme Court for cell phone privacy protection

Some of the largest tech companies in the United States, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Verizon, filed a 44-page brief with the US Supreme Court on Monday, asking for stricter regulations for privacy and security.

The dispute is “whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell phone records revealing the location and movements of a cell phone user over the course of 127 days is permitted by the Fourth Amendment,” reads the brief.

“That users rely on technology companies to process their data for limited purposes does not mean that they expect their intimate data to be monitored by the government without a warrant.”

The brief is linked to a recent appeal by Timothy Carpenter, convicted 4 years ago for armed robberies in Ohio and Michigan, and apprehended by police after using “cell site location information.” The man claims the data was obtained without a warrant, so the operation was in breach of the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Tech companies regularly receive thousands of requests from police or government agencies around the world for user data, conversations or cellphone location records. The tech companies, as well as the attorney representing Carpenter, Nathan Freed Wessler from the American Civil Liberties Union, feel such requests would permit unreasonable searches, violating their customers’ fundamental privacy rights in the digital space.

“The number and variety of organizations and experts filing represent the widespread recognition that your cell phone’s location history is your own business, and the government needs to have a good reason to get its hands on it,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler. “In particular, the tech firms are sending a very clear message that the law needs to catch up with the technology that is now an integral part of our everyday lives.”

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