CFC Blog Post: Smart Phones and Privacy

by Zack Kaldveer, CFC Communications Director, Privacy Revolt

I want to follow up on my series of posts on the historic case currently before the Supreme Court that could determine just how much privacy smart phone users can expect in the future. The case in question seeks to determine whether law enforcement should be required to attain a warrant BEFORE tracking a suspect (or alleged suspect) using GPS technology – which all smart phones happen to now have.

Before I get to the article delving into the smart phone aspect of this case, let me provide a brief summary of how we got here: The case in question involved police covertly tracking a suspected cocaine dealer’s car using a GPS device for an extended period of time without getting a warrant. Thanks to this tracking, the suspect was initially convicted. But, a ruling by the D.C. Court (by Judge Ginsburg) of Appeals overturned that decision, arguing that the use of a secret GPS tracking device on the man’s vehicle for two months violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The idea being, no one wants to feel as if a government agent is following you wherever you go – be it a friend’s house, a place of worship, or a therapist’s office – and certainly innocent Americans shouldn’t have to feel that way.

The problem was that two federal appellate courts had first upheld the use of GPS devices without warrants on the grounds that we have no expectation of privacy when we are in public places and that tracking technology merely makes public surveillance easier and more effective. Now this case is being heard by the Supreme Court.

Now, in past posts I haven’t focused on what this ruling could mean to ALL smart phone users, but instead, simply on the way the police tracked this particular suspect (see past posts for more detail). But let’s be real, if law enforcement can argue, and win, the right to track someone’s whereabouts without a warrant (or even probable cause) using a device implanted in the car, it goes to reason that this would be done in many cases through an individuals smart phone instead.

And of course, this isn’t the only area in which privacy and smart phone technology are being debated. This year in California – to the dismay of civil liberties advo