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US Supreme Court rules warrant required for mobile phone location data

While the government can still obtain a warrant for cellphone location records, that is a higher standard than is often possible to achieve early in an investigation or before specific individuals have been identified as suspects, Chakravarty said.

The Court's decision revolved around a 2011 robbery case involving Timothy Carpenter, a man accused of a Detroit robbery whose wireless provider allowed the FBI access to four months of phone location data in order to build their case against him.

In all, the FBI collected 12,898 location points cataloging Carpenter's movements over 127 days, which place him near four of the robbery locations at the time they occurred.

A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge had ruled the FBI didn't need a court warrant because mobile phone location data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

In a 5-4 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court determined the Fourth Amendment "protects not only property interests but certain expectations of privacy as well.