Transparency After Carpenter

12 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2020 Last revised: 9 Dec 2020

See all articles by Hannah Bloch-Wehba

Hannah Bloch-Wehba

Texas A&M University School of Law; Yale University - Yale Information Society Project

Date Written: January 15, 2020


This brief invited response to Professor Matthew Tokson’s Foulston-Siefkin lecture on the Supreme Court's decision in Carpenter v. United States makes two contributions. First, I highlight the social, political, and economic factors at play in the Carpenter decision. The Carpenter Court recognized, in particular, that digital surveillance implicates the rights of more than just criminal suspects: it poses unique and unappreciated threats to public governance of policing. The decision, I argue, reflects longstanding preoccupations in Fourth Amendment decisions with protecting the “public” — particularly innocent third parties — from intrusive and baseless investigations. In so doing, I situate Professor Tokson’s piece alongside other scholarship exploring how Fourth Amendment doctrine protects a broader set of interests than simply those of the criminal defendant or suspect.

Second, I highlight some practical obstacles to Carpenter’s approach of constraining intrusive digital searches. By subjecting (at least some) digital searches to the warrant requirement, the Carpenter court promoted values of transparency and anti-secrecy. Yet digital search warrants are governed by a different set of rules than physical ones. Those rules are far more protective of law enforcement secrecy than their physical counterparts. As a result, digital searches remain at a remove from some of the avenues toward democratic oversight and scrutiny that the Court may have intended to promote.

Keywords: surveillance, technology, policing

Suggested Citation

Bloch-Wehba, Hannah, Transparency After Carpenter (January 15, 2020). Washburn Law Journal, Vol. 59, pp. 23-33, 2020, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-41, Available at SSRN:

Hannah Bloch-Wehba (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States

Yale University - Yale Information Society Project ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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