On June 5, 2017, the United States Supreme Court granted cert in Carpenter v. United States, a case in the hotly contested area of mobile cellular location data privacy. The question before the Court is whether law enforcement must obtain a warrant for historical cell-site location information.
The case stems from 2014, when Timothy Carpenter was sentenced for his alleged role in coordinating a series of armed robberies of smartphone vendors. To support its case, law enforcement obtained access to 127 days’ worth of Mr. Carpenter’s cell-site location records through what is commonly referred to as a “D order” (after the subsection of the act under which the records were requested). Whereas warrants require the government to show probable cause, under the Stored Communications Act, a D order merely requires that law enforcement present “specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the records requested “are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.” 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d).