Internet Privacy Court Cases | The Supreme Court and Internet Privacy

August 10, 2018

The Supreme Court and Internet Privacy

When it comes to Internet privacy, court cases have become the next realm where the issue will be evolving. In particular, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has set a precedent for how the government and the public view Internet privacy.

The nation’s top court ruled in late June that the government can’t, in most cases, access individuals’ digital data without a search warrant. The 5-4 opinion is considered a precedent-setting finding for Internet privacy. The case stemmed from a robbery investigation in which prosecutors accessed the accused’s cell data to track locations connected to the incidents in question. The Supreme Court ruling found that the government must have a search warrant to access data stored in Americans’ phones, except in a few narrow emergencies.

The Supreme Court heard arguments back in February on another of the Internet privacy court cases that has recently made headlines, this one in regards to Microsoft. In that case, Microsoft went head to head with the DOJ, contending the government’s intrusion into an email stored overseas on one of its servers—which the government said was part of an investigation into illegal drug activity—was unconstitutional. Both sides agreed to drop the case earlier this year after a new law, the CLOUD Act, was put into place. That measure spells out that U.S. warrants can apply internationally and provides guidance for tech companies to challenge government-issued warrants regarding data they store.

The current political climate has made it difficult for legislative fixes to issues affecting Internet privacy. Tech giants, many of which have liberal leanings and very deep pockets, are among the most frequent lobbyists on the Hill, meaning that it’s hard to expect genuine action from Congress. However, that’s just what Americans want: A recent survey found that nearly 60 percent of Americans think it’s unacceptable for the government to access private citizens’ digital communication. Yet with so many competing interests weighing in on the issue—with their own interests in mind—widespread reform to ensure Americans’ privacy is prioritized is proving difficult. That may be what has led to the rise in Internet privacy court cases, which anyone concerned about the future of privacy laws should keep an eye on.

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