techdirt: CBP Tells Senator Ron Wyden It Will Stop Buying Location Data From Third Parties by Tim Cushing:
In 2018, the Supreme Court handed down the Carpenter decision. That decision built on the one declaring phones off limits without a warrant — one delivered four years earlier. The rationale was this: phones are always on, all-knowing, and everywhere all the time.
Given the amount of data generated by everyday smartphone use, the Supreme Court (in these two decisions) decided to expand Fourth Amendment coverage not only to phones, but to the location data they generated continuously in order to provide service to phone owners.
The Carpenter decision said obtaining long-term location data from cell service providers now required a warrant. These records were no longer mere “third party” records. Instead, they were records capable of allowing the government to track a person’s whereabouts (and infer things about those locations). As such, probable cause was needed to obtain these records — ones now removed from the blanket coverage of the Third Party Doctrine.
Faced with this new reality, the government began searching for warrantless alternatives. Brokers hoovering data from unaware phone users (via installed apps that may or may not have warned them location data would be gathered) became the new source for third party records. In fact, this collection of data was one third party removed from the original third party: the app collecting the data.
Given this distance, the government assumed it was constitutional to do the same thing the Carpenter decision prohibited, since it wasn’t gathering location data directly from cell service providers. And by “government,” I mean pretty much all of it. The feds got on top of it, spending tax dollars to provide the DEA, ICE, CBP, Defense Department, and many other federal agencies with location data harvested from phone app users.
Once this new collection became public knowledge, other components of the federal government — namely, certain legislators actually interested in protecting Americans’ rights — got involved. Senator Ron Wyden led the charge to end this warrantless collection of location data determined by the highest court in the land to be protected by the Fourth Amendment (albeit within narrow confines).