Children, Families, and the Law, Center on


Date of this Version



Marshall EW, Groscup JL, Brank EM, Perez A, Hoetger LA. Police surveillance of cell phone location data: Supreme Court versus public opinion. Behav Sci Law. 2019; 37:751–775. 1002/bsl.2442


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The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. As technology evolves, courts must examine Fourth Amendment concerns implicated by the introduction of new and enhanced police surveillance techniques. Recent Supreme Court cases have demonstrated a trend towards reconsidering the mechanical application of traditional Fourth Amendment doctrine to define the scope of constitutional protections for modern technological devices and personal data. The current research examined whether public opinion regarding privacy rights in electronic communications is in accordance with these Supreme Court rulings. Results suggest that cell phone location data is perceived as more private and deserving of protections than other types of location data, but the privacy of other types of information recorded on cell phones is valued even more than location data. These results have implications for the police and courts considering how the Fourth Amendment will apply to smart phone technologies.