Verizon is still the only major wireless carrier in the country to have taken an official stance on Carpenter v. the United States, a high-profile case set to be heard by the Supreme Court later this month and one which will have major implications for the manner in which the government is allowed to seize phone data from Americans. The New Jersey-based mobile service provider joined a legal brief with Google, Twitter, and a number of other tech giants in mid-August, urging the SCOTUS to find a balance between federal searches and users' general expectations of privacy.
Regardless of the ultimate ruling, the case is virtually guaranteed to reshape the regulatory framework in the country in regards to digital data that the government can request without a warrant, i.e. without probable cause while only relying on reasonable suspicion, a reasoning with a significantly weaker burden of proof. The SCOTUS voted to hear the dispute specifically with the goal of determining whether warrantless requests for phone data of private citizens constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment which protects Americans against unlawful and unreasonable searches. The current interpretation of the law is based on decades-old third-party doctrine derived from two SCOTUS-issued rulings from the '70s and states that people willingly giving their data to non-government organizations like banks and telecommunications companies have no reasonable expectation of privacy as those entities are free to give their data to other actors, including the government. Carpenter v. U.S. may change that legal theory if the top judicial body in the country decides that the sole act of owning a phone doesn't eliminate all expectations of privacy only because the location data relayed to wireless carriers is stored on their own servers and not users' personal devices. While the case revolves around cell phone data obtained by the government from MetroPCS, it will also affect future requests for such information from Internet companies like Facebook and not just wireless carriers.
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have all been criticized by privacy advocacy groups for not taking a stance in the matter, which some industry watchers interpreted as a move to not strain their relationship with Washington whose licenses they need to operate, unlike digital companies that are less pressured to not criticize the government in this regard. Supporters of Mr. Carpenter's lawsuit also claim that the third-party doctrine was not established with contemporary smartphones in mind, claiming that the existing regulatory framework needs to be revised and become more nuanced in order to raise the rapidly declining bar of personal privacy in the U.S. Carpenter was originally indicted for a series of armed robberies conducted in Ohio and Michigan in 2010 and 2011, with his verdict partially relying on what he claims was unlawfully obtained smartphone data from MetroPCS.