The Massachusetts Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that text messengers are not granted any right to privacy, which could prevent law enforcement from obtaining and using the messages against them as evidence in a criminal case.
The decisive decision of 5-0 (pdf) comes in a case involving a man from Jorge Delgado-Rivera in Massachusetts, who was charged along with six others on charges of cocaine trafficking.
An investigation that led to his accusation arose from evidence in the form of text messages obtained in 2016 by a Texas police officer during a traffic stop. The officer searched a cellphone belonging to Leonel Garcia-Castaneda. Delgado-Rivera sent the messages to the phone, and it appears the messages link him to a suspected drug dealer.
Garcia-Castaneda sought to suppress evidence seized during the traffic jam, arguing that the search was without a warrant and probable cause, thereby violating the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution.
Judges at the court on Tuesday unanimously ruled that a lower court erred on the part of Delgado-Rivera, claiming that he suppressed the Garion-Castaneda proposal to dare the stop and search.
Judge Frank Gaziano wrote to the court that Delgado-Rivera should not be allowed to dispute the search of his sent messages “because he did not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy, under state or federal law, in the SMS messages sent by him are stored on a mobile phone that belongs to and is owned by another person. ”
The ruling noted that several previous federal court rulings had “uniformly established that ‘if a letter is sent to another, the sender’s expectation of privacy is usually terminated upon delivery.'”
Delgado-Rivera ‘had no reasonable expectation of privacy under the fourth amendment in the relevant text messages, because Garcia-Castaneda, as the recipient, once received a complete message whether he would share or distribute the message of the sender ‘. Gaziano wrote.
The judges recognized that certain oral conversations may have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, they rejected the idea that Delgado-Rivera claims text messages are similar to oral conversations, because they ‘tend to be more informal and exchange more frequently in a shorter format than other forms of written communication.’ The judges call his reasoning ‘unconvincing’.
“The relative formality, frequency or sensitivity of communication not only characterizes the distinction between communication in which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy and that in which the individual does not,” Gaziano wrote, adding later: “The fact that individuals communicating personally revealing thoughts, feelings and facts via an SMS rather than through another medium does not change the analysis of whether it has retained a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication.
The ruling applies to ordinary text messages and not encrypted or short-lived messages, the court noted.
“The question of whether an individual can use certain types of technologies, such as encryption or instant messaging, to maintain the control of sent electronic messages sufficiently to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy in those messages, is not before us,” reads a footnote in the decision. .
The case was the first time the Massachusetts court has addressed privacy rights for text messengers, Gaziano said.