Supreme Court Weighs In On Key Privacy-Interest Case

In Violent Crimes by RSF

On behalf of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry posted in Violent Crimes on Monday, June 25, 2018.

One U.S. Supreme Court analyst prominently notes in a recent national article profiling a key ruling from last week that Americans’ privacy expectations in a certain context have long been limited.

And in a most material way. Law professor and court commentator Steve Vladeck stresses that for many decades Americans have had “no expectation of privacy in any information we voluntarily share with third parties.”

What that practically means is this: Law enforcers digging for incriminating evidence have routinely been able to skirt the constitutional 4th Amendment requirement that they establish grounds for needing it and secure a search warrant before securing it. Lower standards have enabled them to obtain the data they seek and use it to obtain criminal convictions.

That might have just changed in a big way, with a narrow 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last week paving a new standard for securing information that an alleged criminal suspect voluntarily provided to a third party.

In that case, a defendant on appeal was challenging FBI agents’ right to secure cellphone tracking information from a mobile service provider. Authorities used obtained evidence to convict that individual in a string of armed robberies.

The defendant’s argument that probable cause and a search warrant were needed prior to the government petitioning the provider for information failed in a lower federal court. The Supreme Court, however, found it sufficiently convincing to reverse an earlier decision favoring the government.

Will the case make much of a difference?

Commentators are careful to note – as did the high court – that the ruling was narrowly confined to cellphones and information relating to cell-site data.

At the same time, though, they stress a likelihood that the tribunal’s decision could usher in more defendant-friendly outcomes in cases where authorities are seeking warrantless evidence held by third parties.

One case analyst states that the ruling “could portend a revolution” in courts’ enforcement of privacy rights in the modern high-tech era.