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The collection and storage of customers’ private data is a legal and ethical issue for TravelUS because of the question of law enforcement authorities access to this information. Currently, specific federal or state statutes do not regulate the privacy of data collected by TravelUS, the related property issues, data storage, nor the approaches that government officials might take to obtain this information by the government. Possible answers to this problem can be retrieved concerning the case of Carpenter v. the United States.
Cell-Site Location Information
According to Chief Justice Roberts, cell-site records identifying the location of a cell phone and its user or owner differ significantly from such data as dialed telephone numbers or records from a bank. In particular, Chief Justice Roberts accentuates that the information gleaned from cell-site records is “qualitatively different” in comparison to that revealed in the disclosure of bank records and phone numbers as discussed in the Smith and Miller cases.
The reason given is that cell-site location information is “detailed, encyclopedic, and effortlessly compiled,” as stated in the majority opinion related to Carpenter v. the United States. Bank records are assumed to provide some information to a third party, and customers can expect their disclosure. Similarly, telephone numbers do not convey private information about their users.
In comparison, the nature of cell-site location information is different because it potentially reflects all the movements and meetings as well as the preferences of an individual. According to the majority opinion, cell-site location information is associated with comprehensive records detailing a person’s activities and private life.
As explained in the decision related to Carpenter v. the United States, people expect that the records of their movements and meetings documented with the help of cell-site location technologies will be private and protected. Thus, these data differ qualitatively from other types of information in that historical cell-site records can be used to generate a report revealing all aspects of an individual’s life. From this perspective, it is possible to note considerable privacy concerns in this case.
Data Collected by TravelUS
The data collected by TravelUS include specific information about customers’ locations at any point in time, movements within their country and abroad, preferences regarding hotels and restaurants, and actual dates and times related to booking and visiting facilities. In the course of using the service, customers provide TravelUS and their partners with information about their credit cards, location, shopping, rest, activity preferences, and other facets of their activities. As a result of reviewing these data, it is possible to obtain knowledge regarding aspects of customers’ private lives, their location, and the use of GPS assistance services.
In addition, these records indirectly reflect customers’ spending, the period of stay in a hotel, and similar data. Therefore, in considering the nature and quality of details that data stored at TravelUS can provide about its clients, it is possible to state that these details are similar to cell-site location information.
As a result of regarding the data collected by TravelUS as cell-site location information, the majority can conclude that clients of the company reasonably expect privacy to be applied to their collected data. Not only can law enforcement authorities request information about customer location, but also, in the worst case, criminals may seek illegal access to these data. Therefore, customers expect that their private data and information about location and movements will not be retrieved easily without a warrant and will be kept secure from criminal activity.
Privacy of Cell-Site Location Information Records
According to Justice Kennedy, specific cell-site location information records cannot be viewed as implying “greater privacy interests” than financial records provided by banks or telephone records (“Justice Kennedy Dissent”). To support his opinion, Justice Kennedy provided a range of arguments and reasons. He stated that even if Carpenter v. the United States can be compared to the Smith and Miller cases and discussed within their contexts, it is possible to view data from the latter cases as more private. Thus, financial and telephone records reveal information about individuals regarding their purchases, income, visits, meetings, and preferences that are more private. These records offer factual information including specific names and actual numbers.
If the majority refers to the Smith and Miller cases, cell-site location information appears to provide less private and factual data about a person. According to Justice Kennedy, records on an individual’s location and movements are not private because of being observed by other people (“Justice Kennedy Dissent”). Furthermore, these data are often shared voluntarily with the help of social media and similar resources. In addition, it is almost impossible to determine the actual location of a person using cell-site location information, and only general information can be accessed (“Justice Kennedy Dissent”). Therefore, according to Justice Kennedy’s dissenting opinion, cell-site location data are less private than data discussed in the Smith and Miller cases.
Client’s Expectation of Privacy
It is noteworthy that customers’ expectation of privacy when they share data with TravelUS is higher than that associated with the records from the Smith and Miller cases. In the context of Justice Kennedy’s reasoning, those records collected with reference to the Smith and Miller cases included customers’ private information such as financial data and information about regular contacts when using a telephone. Even if Justice Kennedy does not view cell-site location information and similar data as having the same nature, the problem remains that customers of TravelUS provide the company with various data. TravelUS collects information on locations and data associated with using GPS services in addition to information about selected hotels, places of interest, check-in, and check-out dates, and the credit card information of its clients.
From this perspective, TravelUS collects and stores data that is more detailed than mere records of clients’ locations and movements. Therefore, it is possible to argue that this information is associated with privacy concerns more than the data described in Carpenter v. United States (“Carpenter v. United States,” 2018). Furthermore, referring to Justice Kennedy’s reasoning, these data are equal to or more detailed than the records used in the Smith and Miller cases. While being guided by Justice Kennedy’s opinion, it is important to note that clients’ expectations of privacy regarding their data use by TravelUS will be significant, depending on the nature of the information they provide.
The Property-Based Analysis
One approach to discussing the issue in Carpenter v. the United States is to refer to property-based analysis under the principles supported by the Fourth Amendment. According to Justice Gorsuch, the Fourth Amendment is appropriate to explain the problem in a case having a focus on the property question because the owners of information are the ones who decide how to disclose and use it. Justice Gorsuch noted that “ancient principles may help us address modern data cases” and provided his argumentation (“Justice Gorsuch Dissent”).
According to Justice Gorsuch, the courts are expected to refer to ancient principles associated with the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment in offering simple and proven answers. From this point of view, when a person possesses something, the Fourth Amendment protects the individual’s property rights even if he or she shares information, objects, or other items with third parties. Therefore, according to this ancient principle, it is reasonable to allow the owner of the data to direct or allow any further use of this information.
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To determine the owner of the property, Justice Gorsuch has proposed to refer to several criteria. First, access by a third party to an individual’s papers, as in the examples offered by Justice Gorsuch, does not mean that the owner loses property rights. Second, courts should also pay attention to the phenomenon of bailment when one’s property is delivered to another person for some reason without violating the property rights of the owner (“Justice Gorsuch Dissent”). Therefore, the courts should determine the circumstances under which information and papers can be delivered to a third party and for what purpose.
Analysis of the majority opinion and dissenting opinions regarding Carpenter v. the United States indicates that data collected and stored by TravelUS can be discussed as property belonging to customers. Furthermore, this information is private and can be disclosed to law enforcement authorities only under specific conditions. The reason is that clients provide comprehensive information about their lives to be used by TravelUS. As a result, the customers of the company expect that their privacy and property interests will not be violated because of any inappropriate policy followed by TravelUS.
Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. 16-402 (2018). Supreme Court of the United States. Web.
“Justice Gorsuch Dissent.” Justia, 2019. Web.
“Justice Kennedy Dissent.” Justia, 2019. Web.