The companies filed a brief in the case Carpenter v. The industry titans signed the 44-page brief filed in court on Monday night. Carpenter later appealed his case, but an appellate court ruled that the Fourth Amendment - which protects USA citizens from unreasonable search and seizure - doesn't apply to this kind of user data and that no warrant is required for police to obtain it.
Carpenter's case will be argued before the court some time after its new term begins in October. Authorities investigating robberies in and around Detroit obtained several months of cellphone location data without a warrant, including roughly 13,000 locations associated with the plaintiff.
Notwithstanding that technology companies may use or share the data to increase revenue, they are justifiably concerned that lack of a Fourth Amendment barrier will make people think twice about using digital services that create revenue-generating data. For suspect Timothy Carpenter, the records covered 127 days and revealed 12,898 separate points of location data, an average of over 100 location points per day.
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Tech companies aren't the only ones supporting the ACLU in this case.
This is an important case when it comes to the extent of our privacy rights in the digital age.
The Knight First Amendment Institute wrote on behalf of 19 technology experts to highlight the increasing precision of cell phone location data and the highly sensitive information about people's lives that the data can reveal. The so-called third-party doctrine and the content/noncontent distinction, they said, should not categorically foreclose Fourth Amendment protection. Carpenter is represented at the Supreme Court by attorneys for the ACLU and ACLU of MI; defense attorney Harold Gurewitz of Gurewitz & Raben, PLC; and Jeffrey Fisher, co-director of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. "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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