Today, in a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that the government’s acquisition of information regarding an individual’s location based on a cell phone record amounts to a Fourth Amendment search and generally requires a warrant.  In Carpenter v. United States, the government obtained nearly 13,000 location points on Carpenter’s movements over a 127-day period from Carpenter’s wireless carrier under the Stored Communications Act (SCA).  The standard for obtaining information under the SCA is much lower than the probable cause showing required for a warrant.  The government used these cell phone records to show that Carpenter’s phone was near four locations that had been robbed when those robberies occurred and obtained a conviction.  In reversing the decision of the Sixth Circuit and remanding the case, the Court held that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their physical movements.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the 119-page opinion for the majority, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justices Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch each filed dissenting opinions.

On February 16, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari to review CareFirst’s appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit’s decision in Attias v. Carefirst, Inc., 865 F.3d 620 (D.C. Cir. 2017).  The D.C. Circuit held that the threat of harm from a data breach is enough to satisfy the “injury in fact” standing requirement.    Other circuit courts of appeal have reached the opposite conclusion.  Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court will not be addressing that circuit split this session.  See our previous entry on the CareFirst case.