U.S. Supreme Court accepts cell phone privacy case with transnational implications
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The urgent problem on the transnational scene is that the secrecy paradigm is incompatible with emerging global privacy norms. In EU data protection, for example, privacy follows data downstream. A person can divulge information with strings attached, and the strings are enforceable against subsequent recipients, such as Internet retailers. Even in public places, a data collector, such as a surveillance camera owner, has affirmative obligations to captured subjects. This incompatibility goes a long way to explain the incongruence of European apoplexy and American nonchalance in reaction to global surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency.
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However suspenseful, Carpenter proffers bad facts to kill the third-party doctrine outright. As the Sixth Circuit observed, ordinary people know that cell phones communicate with nearby towers, and their location data are not as damningly precise as GPS. The privacy intrusion was therefore modest, and statute afforded some safeguard. What will be interesting to see in Carpenter is whether more justices lend their voices to the Alito or Sotomayor position, and whether the replacement of Justice Scalia with Justice Gorsuch unsettles the Court’s fealty to originalism.
Read the article at pp. 5-6 of the fall 2017 newsletter of the Privacy, Cybersecurity & Digital Rights Committee of the Section of International Law of the American Bar Association, available here in PDF.