The brief urges the U.S. Supreme Court to side with the digital rights of citizens against intrusive governments breaches of privacy.
More than a dozen technology companies along with Verizon Communications Inc, the biggest wireless operator in the U.S., have called on the U.S. Supreme Court to formulate rules that will make it harder for government officials to access U.S. citizens’ cellphone data.
The companies have filed a 44 page brief with the court in a high-profile dispute over whether law enforcement agencies should have to obtain a warrant before getting access to cellphone data which could reveal his whereabouts.
The brief which has the signatures of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, including Alphabet’s Google, Snap, Apple, Facebook and Twitter, states that since an individuals’ data is increasingly collected through digital devices, there is a greater need for privacy protections law.
“That users rely on technology companies to process their data for limited purposes does not mean that they expect their intimate data to be monitored by the government without a warrant,” reads the brief.
Last June the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear an appeal by Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 in a series of armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Ohio and Michigan. Federal prosecutors placed him near several of the robberies using his “cell site location information” obtained from his wireless carrier.
In this case, Carpenter claimed that the information was obtained without a warrant from a court, which amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. However, a federal appeals court upheld his convictions, and ruled that no such warrant was required.
With Carpenter going on appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court, the case will be heard by the judges in October.
The case could juggernaught and be seen as a benchmark case midst growing scrutiny of surveillance practices by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and concern in the political spectrum and among lawmakers that law enforcement agencies are evading warrant requirements.
As per Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing Carpenter, the companies’ brief represented a “robust defense of their customers’ privacy rights in the digital age.”
Verizon’s signature on the brief is telling, said Wesler while adding, that it must be receiving, like its peers, thousands of requests for cellphone location records every year from law enforcement agencies. Such requests are routinely granted by the court.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending current law enforcement procedures in the case, declined to comment.
According to lawyers from civil liberties groups, law enforcement agencies need “probable cause,” and therefore a warrant, to avoid constitutionally unreasonable searches.
In their brief, companies have requested the Supreme Court to protect personal information in today’s digital data by siding by siding with citizens who lose privacy by “simply by choosing to use those technologies.” The brief has urged the court to protect the rights digital rights of citizens against increasing government intrusion.