When the U.S. Supreme Court heard the high stakes arguments of Carpenter v. United States in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, a familiar name popped up as justices considered legal issues in the case.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited research by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Matthew Tokson during discussion of the case, which legal scholars anticipate may transform privacy law in the digital age.
Sotomayor referenced a Northwestern University Law Review article by Tokson, “Knowledge and Fourth Amendment Privacy”, which explores issues related to cell phone location tracking and how courts have failed to apply the Fourth Amendment to such tracking, based on erroneous conclusions about what people know about their privacy. The article had previously been referenced by Nathan Wessler, an attorney representing Timothy Carpenter — one of the robbery suspects whose cell phone records revealed 12,898 separate points of location data.
At issue in Carpenter v. United States is whether the government violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution by accessing an individual’s historical cell phone locations records without a warrant. The case stems from a string of robberies at several Detroit Radio Shacks in 2010 in which the defendants were prosecuted with evidence gathered through extensive cellphone searches that tracked their movements and locations.
The high court is expected to rule on the case by June, with some legal scholars calling the case the 21st century’s most important electronic privacy case.
In addition to the direct mention by Sotomayor in court on Wednesday, Tokson in recent days has blogged about the merits of the case with Lior Strahilevitz of the University of Chicago at Concurringopinions.com.
He also published an op-ed in New York magazine, “The Supreme Court’s Cell-Phone-Tracking Case Has High Stakes.”
Tokson joined the S.J. Quinney College of Law in July 2017. He moved to Utah after most recently working as an assistant professor at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. Tokson graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College and with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was the executive articles editor of the law review and was admitted to the Order of the Coif. He served as law clerk to the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg and to the Honorable David H. Souter of the United States Supreme Court. Previously, he served as law clerk to the Honorable A. Raymond Randolph of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Immediately prior to joining the Chase faculty, he was a senior litigation associate with WilmerHale, in Washington, D.C.
Tokson has served as a fellow at the University of Chicago, where he taught intellectual property law, privacy law, and criminal procedure. Tokson’s scholarship has previously been published in the Iowa Law Review, the William & Mary Law Review, and the University of Chicago Law Review in addition to the Northwestern University Law Review article mentioned in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bob Adler, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, noted the significance of Tokson’s research receiving a mention in the court arguments.
“This is a scholar’s dream,” Adler said, noting the work “directly affects the merits of the case being argued.”