Apple, other tech firms submit amicus brief in ‘Carpenter vs. United States’ case

Apple and other tech firms have submitted a amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, expressing concerns about warrantless police access to cellphone location data, notes AppleInsider.

Airbnb, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Snap, Twitter, and Verizon join the Cupertino, California-based company in arguing that 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."

All this involves the case of Timothy Carpenter v. United States. It involves a string of armed robberies that occurred over a two-year period. A group of at least five men — lead by Carpenter — would go into cellphone stores armed with guns, order the customers and employees to the back, and steal the phones. Carpenter was the lead organizer of the conspiracy, and he often supplied the guns, acted as a lookout and would signal when each robbery was to begin.

One of Carpenter’s conspirators confessed to the crime and gave the government his cellphone number and the numbers of the other conspirators.The government applied for three different court orders for the cell-site records associated with those numbers, which included Carpenter’s number. Specifically, the orders sought “cell site information” for Carpenter’s phone “at call origination and at call termination for incoming and outgoing calls.” 

The government obtained the orders under the Stored Communications Act. They complied with the statute, but the statute requires only reasonable suspicion and not probable cause. Police obtained Carpenter's location history without a warrant, leading to his eventual robbery conviction. At court he's being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says that the government violated Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure.