Supreme Court considering police use of cell records

Court to determine whether warrant is required

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2016, file photo an iPhone is seen in Washington. The Supreme Court is hearing a case on Nov. 29, 2017, is taking up a case about privacy rights that could limit the government’s ability to track Americans’ movements in the digital age. The justices are hearing an appeal from Timothy Carpenter. He was sentenced to 116 years in prison after being convicted of robbing electronics stores in Michigan and Ohio. Records from cellphone towers near the stores helped place Carpenter in the vicinity of the crimes. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear its latest case about privacy in the digital age.

Currently, police can use cell phone tower records to place a suspect in the vicinity of crimes; something they do thousands of times a year. But rights groups across the political spectrum say it’s too easy for police to learn revealing details about Americans’ lives by just looking at phone records.

Wednesday’s arguments are based on an appeal from federal prison inmate Timothy Carpenter, who is serving a 116-year sentence for armed robberies in the Detroit area and in northwestern Ohio.

The police built their case against Carpenter by matching his cell phone use to cell towers near Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores that were robbed.

The Fourth Amendment says that prosecutors are required to convince a judge they have good reason- known as probable cause- to believe that a suspect is involved in a crime. The amendment also prohibits “unreasonable” searches and seizures.

In Carpenter’s case, prosecutors did not go to a judge to obtain the cell phone records, and now the Supreme Court needs to decide whether that was needed. The judge at Carpenter’s trial did not suppress the records, and a federal appeals court agreed that was permissable. The Trump Administration also favors allowing police to obtain such records without a court order.

Nineteen states support the Trump Administration’s position, saying that their is no evidence that the records were used improperly, and that requiring a warrant would result in more crimes going unsolved.