In Friday’s Carpenter v. United States the Supreme Court by 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing and joined by the four liberals, held that police collection of cellphone location records covering a period of a week is a search covered by the Fourth Amendment and generally requires a warrant. Orin Kerr has first thoughts. Ilya Shapiro at Cato writes that the Court reaches “the right result for the wrong reason,” in an “artificial muddle” of a decision that carves an exception into the third-party doctrine without the more searching rethinking of search and seizure law that is needed.
More promising, Shapiro says, is Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion — which he styles as a dissent, but is a concurrence in all but name — which points the way to rethinking and strengthening Fourth Amendment search and seizure law along first principles of “the people’s right to be secure in their ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ based not on privacy expectations but on property rights, contract law, and statutory protections (all of which can certainly be applied in the modern digital age).” The alternative, says Shapiro, will be for the Court to fall back on “reinventing the Fourth Amendment with each technological revolution,” amid new ad hoc exceptions and elaborations. More background at Cato at earlier stages of the case: Matthew Feeney on oral argument, merits brief, certiorari brief.