Supreme Court Will Decide If Your Mobile Phone Location Data Is Private

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It's a funny thing about the 21st century: Nearly all of us carry location trackers on us, voluntarily, every single place we go. They're our phones, and we carry them with us when we shop, while we work, while we exercise, while we sleep, and even when we use the bathroom. And that leaves an incredibly valuable, intimate trail of location data that businesses use basically however they want. But as far as your legal rights are concerned, is that personal data actually private?

The Supreme Court agreed today to hear arguments in a case seeking to sort out exactly that question.

The case, Carpenter v United States, centers on a Michigan man, Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted of committing robberies around Detroit in 2011.

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As part of that investigation, law enforcement obtained several months'—27 days—worth of cell phone location records on their suspect. Those records, the ACLU explains, held nearly 13,000 separate points of location data.

Even if you keep your phone's GPS disabled, the device itself sends back approximate location data to your carrier based on which signal tower(s) it is able to reach. That data seemed to put the man in the general vicinity of several of the stores that were robbed.

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