A Surveillance Time Machine [Infographic]
This month, the ACLU will be at the Supreme Court, arguing in a case that has historic implications for privacy in the digital age.
The case concerns whether the Fourth Amendment provides protection when police seek a person’s cell phone location records. In 2011, federal investigators obtained more than four months of Timothy Carpenter’s cell phone location data from his service provider without a search warrant during a criminal investigation in Detroit. The data revealed thousands of his location points. Because of an outdated legal theory, the government insists these records, along with the data generated by other popular technologies, aren’t covered by the Constitution’s safeguard against warrantless search and seizure.
Yet these records can reveal an incredible amount of private information and should absolutely be entitled to Fourth Amendment protection. The Supreme Court’s decision will set a precedent for years to come, making it crucial that it ensures that the police are subject to limits on search and seizure in the digital age.
Did you know your smartphone is essentially a surveillance time machine?
A typical smartphone connects to cell towers hundreds of times a day — every time it sends and receives a text, checks email, updates the weather, and more.
As a result, your phone company possesses an intricate matrix of data points reflecting your every movement over months or years.
The government claims the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect those location records because you knowingly give them to your phone company.
This legal theory is called the “third-party doctrine.”
It says that once you disclose records to a company, you forgo your “expectation of privacy” in those records.
Think about that. The government is claiming you don’t expect visits to your therapist, house of worship, or lover — along with your every other move — to remain private.
Just because you signed a contract with a phone company.
The third-party doctrine threatens the privacy of much more than just cell phone location records, including:
• contents of emails to your partner
• sensitive prescription records from your doctor
• protest sites you’ve visited
• records from apps monitoring heartrate, sleep, exercise, and menstruation
• online grocery lists
• Alexa voice commands
• data created all those neat smart appliances you’ve been buying
(The government thinks it knows more about what parts of your life should stay private than you do. A little hard to swallow, right?)
The government wants a world where it can easily access every tiny detail about us all without getting a search warrant from a judge.
The Constitution forbids that kind of overreach. We’re going to the Supreme Court to stop it.
We shouldn’t have to choose between using technology and protecting our privacy.
The solution is simple: Get a warrant.