Recognizing that “the digital age has altered dramatically the societal landscape”, in Commonwealth v. Augustine, (decided February 18, 2014) Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court applied state constitutional principles to subject Cellular Site Location Information (CSLI) to the protections of the warrant requirement. The case is interesting in that the Court afforded customers’ physical location(s) (as determined from cell tower data) constitutional protection even though such information was determined to be “voluntarily provided by a subscriber to a third party”. The Court stated that “tracking a person’s movements implicates privacy concerns” and that cell phones have “become an indispensable part of modern [American] life” and “almost permanent attachments” to the bodies of their users. Therefore, “government-compelled production of the defendant’s CLSI records by Sprint” was a “search in the constitutional sense” to which the warrant requirement contained in our state constitution (the “Declaration of Rights”) applied.
In criminal and privacy cases, it is always interesting to see how appellate courts grapple with the application of centuries-old constitutional principles to advancements in modern technology. For those of us lucky to live in Massachusetts, our highest court has frequently issued decisions guided by the recognition that our state constitution affords citizens greater protection than its Federal counterpart. The Augustine case is an example.