In a landmark 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore, absent exigent circumstances, needs a warrant supported by probable cause when obtaining cell-site location information (i.e., records of the cell towers to which mobile devices connect). The majority reached that conclusion based on the determination that such location records are subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy that continues to apply even though the location records are disclosed to the cell phone user’s wireless carrier, a third party.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the Microsoft search warrant case, a case in which Microsoft challenged the U.S. government’s right to use the warrant process to obtain certain emails stored overseas. Some view the upcoming decision as signaling the level of access the U.S. government will have to the growing troves of data U.S.-based technology companies hold about citizens of the world. And regulators in the EU and other jurisdictions may view a reversal of the Second Circuit decision as a negative factor when considering the protections the U.S. government afford their citizens’ data. The case was previously decided twice in Microsoft’s favor in the Second Circuit, which declined to grant en banc review by a 4-4 decision.