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Supreme Court surveillance opinion nudges us to think nationally, act locally

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Betty Saliba
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After deliberating the decision for months, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Carpenter v. United States, a case in which the court was asked to answer the question: is it OK for police to obtain 127-days worth of someone’s cell-site location information (CSLI) without a warrant?

A majority of the justices clearly articulated something that many of us intuit: that “tracking a person’s past movements... are detailed, encyclopedic, and effortlessly compiled.” In other words, long-term location data is “unique” when compared against other types of record that police have been previously able to obtain, such as bank records or short-term call logs.

After all, allowing law enforcement officers a warrantless tool of this magnitude gives them something of a superpower.

Until Friday, police could easily acquire a set of data that would achieve what no team of officers previously could without expending significant human and financial resources.

Federal magistrate judges nationwide sign off on them literally every day: it is one of their key functions.

The police’s just got a bit tougher but certainly not anywhere close to impossible.

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Betty Saliba
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