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In a 9-0 ruling written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled today that searches of cell phones require a warrant except in cases with exigent circumstances. In addition to being a clear victory for privacy advocates in the law enforcement sphere, the case has powerful ramifications for past, present, and future NSA programs.

Today’s ruling includes a number of significant hints at the Court's growing dissatisfaction with the government's willingness to trample privacy rights, (Marcy Wheeler’s twitter feed has a good rundown), but one line stands out. In Riley, the government suggested that law enforcement could develop “agency protocols” to ensure that cell phone searches are limited to local, rather than cloud data, an argument the Supreme Court tellingly, sharply rebuffed:

. . . the Founders did not fight a revolution to gain the right to government agency protocols.
NSA senior officials have touted internal agency limits on how and when NSA analysts can query the database as demonstrating the legality of NSA's un-targeted, mass surveillance operations. (Of course, the NSA has been caught violating such procedures multiple times ), but that’s another story.)  

In 2010-2011, the NSA ran a “pilot” program which collected domestic cell location data. NSA also currently collects location data “incidentally” (read "incidentally" as "potentially millions") from Americans as part of its global location data tracking.

In Riley, however, in a discussion about the relative privacy interest between cell data and physical records, Roberts points out that cell location data is incredibly revealing.

Data on a cell phone can also reveal where a person has been. Historic location information is a standard feature on many smart phones and can reconstruct someone’s specific movements down to the minute, not only around town but also within a particular building.
Privacy advocates, such as Trevor Timm are reading this as an implicit endorsement of the recent 11th Circuit decision, United States v. Quartavious Davis, which held that warrants are required for the collection of cellphone location data. If affirmed by the Supreme Court, such a ruling would definitively put the kibosh on reviving the NSA domestic location data program.

Every court victory for privacy rights, including today's decision and U.S. v. Jones (2012 ruling that governemnt needed a warrant to place GPS tracker on a suspect's vehicle) makes NSA's questionable arguments for the legality of its mass surveillance operations even more untenable.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  IOW, a loophole . .. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    One Pissed Off Liberal
    In a 9-0 ruling written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled today that searches of cell phones require a warrant except in cases with exigent circumstances.
    big enough to drive a Mack Truck or LeBron James' ego through.

    But hey, it makes for a nice headline.

    •  It sounds like good news, but (4+ / 0-)

      yes this seems like a pony show. NSA's still collecting, still legal by redacted law, authorized by some statute in the Patriot act where the words are tortured like detainees at gitmo.

      There is a sense of chipping away at the edges, though. So I guess its good.

      A true craftsman will meticulously construct the apparatus of his own demise.

      by onionjim on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 12:32:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think it's good (3+ / 0-)

        it's a cynical ploy into re-lulling everybody back into apathy that there's nothing to worry about.

        There should be no loopholes, period.

        Of course, even then it's all a pony show.  Or as I would say a "dog and pony show" (really, why the slight to our canine friends?)  

        Because as this New Yorker article outlines in great detail, the intelligence community flouts both presidential and court orders with complete impunity.

        Sadly, there is absolutely no mechanism in place to rein them in

        •  Linked article shows contrast between Senate and (4+ / 0-)


          On March 12, 2013, James R. Clapper appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the threats facing America. Clapper, who is seventy-two, is a retired Air Force general and Barack Obama’s director of National Intelligence, in charge of overseeing the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and fourteen other U.S. spy agencies. Clapper is bald, with a gray goatee and rimless spectacles, and his affect is intimidatingly bureaucratic. The fifteen-member Intelligence Committee was created in the nineteen-seventies, after a series of investigations revealed that the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. had, for years, been illegally spying on Americans. The panel’s mission is to conduct “vigilant legislative oversight” of the intelligence community, but more often it treats senior intelligence officials like matinée idols. As the senators took turns at the microphone, greeting Clapper with anodyne statements and inquiries, he obligingly led them on a tour of the dangers posed by homegrown extremists, far-flung terrorist groups, and emerging nuclear powers.

          “This hearing is really a unique opportunity to inform the American public to the extent we can about the threats we face as a nation, and worldwide,” Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said at one point. She asked committee members to “refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.” Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, asked about the lessons of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, asked about the dangers of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

          While it remains to be seen how this precedent will be applied in the future, it's a hell of a lot better than senators sucking up to Clapper.

          Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

          by RFK Lives on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 01:11:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  There are always exceptions to the warrant (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          requirement.  You need a warrant to enter someone's home, but if police hear someone crying for help inside, they can enter without a warrant.  You need a warrant to open someone's seized bag, but if you hear a ticking noise coming from it, you can open it without a warrant and diffuse the bomb inside.  

          •  Hmm, so in this case, presumably the (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            cries for help would have to be coming over the cell phone in question?

            Very well, that makes good sense to me.  I think.

            •  It doesn't have to be a cry for help, necessarily. (0+ / 0-)

              If the suspect said something like "My buddy is driving over now to kill the last person I called" the cops could look at the call log without a warrant.  

              •  And the cops never lie about this type of thing? (0+ / 0-)

                which should be quite strange to me, who as middle aged white male  should not be subject to this type of indignity (but strangely enough, am on a surprisingly frequent basis)

                My only explanation is that like Spock, I experienced much too much LDS back in the '60s

                •  I'm sure they could, but if a cop is willing to (0+ / 0-)

                  lie to make it into the exigent circumstances exception, surely he would lie even without the exception.  Even if there's no exception, even if a bomb is about to go off in downtown NY—the cop could just look at the phone anyway and say the suspect told him the information.  Bad cops aren't going to be stopped by limiting good exceptions.  

                  •  Yeah, whatever (0+ / 0-)

                    I am just so freakin' sick of being lied to by the police, that I don't want any exceptions.

                    And I should point out again that as middle class white male, this happens to me about once a year.

                    I cannot even fathom how irksome that this might be to minorities (e.g., in a stop and frisk scenario) that this happens to once a week instead of once a year.

                    •  Ok, so if someone is calling for help inside (0+ / 0-)

                      a house, police can't come in without a warrant? If they know the suspect's accomplice has kidnapped a child, they can't look in the suspect's phone to get the number without a warrant—even if they believe the accomplice is going to kill the child any minute?  

                      •  IMHO, it appears that you watch (0+ / 0-)

                        (and believe!) way too many of those CBS SUV-type crime shows.

                        Noting that the head of CBS is a big time RW nutcase.

                        I mean seriously, what are the chances in real life that the police are actually going to be on the doorstep in the exact moment of crisis that you suggest?

                        I'm pretty sure that the answer is "for all intents and purposes ZERO" - such that your advocacy for the position that you have been advocating is 100% just for the expansion of the already too large police state.

                        I really don't know why, but I'm rapidly approaching the age where I'm learning not to ask that type of question

                        •  Ha, actually I do this professionally. (0+ / 0-)

                          I'm a lawyer in criminal practice.  Stuff like this does happen.  

                          I think we'll just agree to disagree.  Practically speaking, it doesn't matter, because the exigent circumstances exception isn't going anywhere.  

                          •  Yeah, I get how lawyers get special treatment (0+ / 0-)

                            from the court system.

                            I've gone in sat in on enough DUI and low level drug enforcement cases to have that made crystal clear to me.

                            And yes - it makes sense that we will have to disagree because we live in very different worlds.

                            Which is kinda sad, because it'd be nice if democracy actually still existed in the USA.

                            But as your post just reinforced for me, it clearly does not

                        •  Typo alert - maybe that should be SVU (0+ / 0-)

                          although quite frankly, it's a real head-scratcher which one of those causes more harm to this country . ..

                  •  There is no need to lie, all they would have (0+ / 0-)

                    to do is use the following statement: "given the existence of apps that will destroy/delete/wipe data if the right password is not entered every X units of time, exigent circumstances is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to smart phones".

                    You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

                    by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 03:02:44 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  That's The Only "Loophole" That Should Be Given (0+ / 0-)

                    In the "ticking bomb" scenario the surveillance-state apologists keep tossing out, the correct answer is that the agent faced with the situation should do what he thinks he has to do without legal cover and submit himself to justice afterwards. If there is indeed a ticking bomb, prosecution is unlikely to happen and even less likely to result in conviction (jury nullification would protect him if all else failed). If not, let him face the consequences of abusing his authority without having any real exigent circumstances to fall back upon.

                    The demands for extra authorities and loopholes and exceptions to the Fourth Amendment is driven by cowardice, not necessity.

                    On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

                    by stevemb on Thu Jun 26, 2014 at 04:09:42 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

    •  The exigent circumstances rule applies (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RFK Lives, MKinTN

      to ALL searches that require a warrant.  Put another way, there's no situation (that I can think of) where exigent circumstances do not defeat the warrant requirement.  That aspect of the holding was entirely consistent with Fourth Amendment jurisprudence for the last 75 years.  

  •  1 branch of 3 ready to uphold the 4A (10+ / 0-)

    I guess that's the idea behind separation of powers.  It's fascinating to think that Thomas is to the left of the executive branch and to far too many in Congress on this issue.

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 12:30:10 PM PDT

    •  Alito, in a solo concurrence, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joe shikspack, Angie in WA State
      would have preferred to have the opinion expand the “search incident to arrest” doctrine to allow police without a warrant to actually search for evidence of crime as part of an arrest, and he would have preferred to leave it to Congress and state legislatures to decide
      Figures, from a judge who thinks it's okay for the police to shoot an unarmed person fleeing a crime scene in the back.

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 12:34:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Warrantless cell phone searches (6+ / 0-)

    were such a blatant case of the police pretending not to understand the clear language of the 4th Amendment, of treating exceptions as if the exceptions were what the Constitution is all about.

    Supreme Court on mobile phone searches: "Get a warrant." There, was that so hard?
    By Simplify, Jun. 25, 2014, 12:07 PM PDT

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 12:30:56 PM PDT

  •  We still have problems at the borders -- (3+ / 0-)

    before you enter the US they will try to search your phone or computer.

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 12:49:41 PM PDT

  •  Since this morning's announcement... (5+ / 0-)

    ...there have been two identified ways discussed in which local law enforcement may circumvent today's SCOTUS ruling:

    1.) Chris Soghoian, ACLU Privacy Activist, has just mentioned on Twitter that law enforcement use (and, I'm assuming, claims of "incidental data capture" relating to the use) of Stingrays/IMSI Catcher devices; and,

    2.) Yours truly, over at Marcy Wheeler's blog has posted the following questions/click THIS LINK, with regard to the AT&T Hemisphere Project, and it's acknowledged, widespread access (to same) by local law enforcement to fight all types of "crime"; all covered under Presidential authorization, and not subject to the terms covered in today's SCOTUS decision.

    "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

    by bobswern on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 01:00:29 PM PDT

  •  Q: does that mean (0+ / 0-)

    civilians have section 1983 actions if they can show their cell phone data has been mined without consent?

    "You cannot win improv." Stephen Colbert ( at 16:24).

    by Publius2008 on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 01:01:14 PM PDT

  •  Does this have any implications (0+ / 0-)

    wrt US Pushing Local Police To Keep Quiet On Cell-Phone Surveillance Technology

    the bigger picture is here that each and every US citizen appears to be massively screwed wrt to privacy issues.

    Unfortunately 87 out of 100 DailyKossers don't give a flying fuck because they're firmly on the side of the Police/Industrial State . ..

  •  Thank You (0+ / 0-)


    March AGAINST monsatanOHagentorange 3/25/13 a time warp

    by 3rock on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 05:54:52 PM PDT

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