Context:

Patricia McDonough was robbed at a bank in Maryland, she reported the robbery and gave the police a description of the man and his car. Soon after, she began receiving phone calls from whom she believed to be the man who robbed her. The police discovered a car waiting outside McDonough’s home that belonged to Michael Lee Smith. After checking the pen register records, which kept track of the numbers dialed from a phone, the police found out that Smith had been calling her. The police obtained a search warrant and discovered that McDonough’s name was marked in Smith’s phonebook. He was arrested and McDonough pointed Smith out in a lineup. Smith made a motion to have the evidence from the pen register be suppressed, as the device was installed without his consent or a warrant. The Supreme Court ruled that Smith did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, as the numbers recorded by the pen register are frequently collected for and freely given to the phone company. This decision established the third-party doctrine: if information is freely given to a third party, the police are not required to obtain a warrant. Justice Stewart wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that people have reasonable expectations for privacy when making a phone call for both the conversation and the number of whom that person is speaking to. In that case, the police would have needed a warrant to check the phone records or pen register data to arrest Smith.

Smith v. Maryland

442 U.S. 735 (1979)

(Third Party Doctrine)


Facts:

On March 5, 1976, in Baltimore, Md., Patricia McDonough was robbed. She gave the police a description of the robber and of a 1975 Monte Carlo automobile she had observed near the scene of the crime. After the robbery, McDonough began receiving threatening and obscene phone calls from a man identifying himself as the robber. On one occasion, the caller asked that she step out on her front porch; she did so,and saw the 1975 Monte Carlo she had earlier described to police moving slowly past her home. On March 16, police spotted a man who met McDonough's description driving a 1975 Monte Carlo in her neighborhood. By tracing the license plate number, police learned that the car was registered in the name of petitioner, Michael Lee Smith.

The next day, the telephone company, at police request, installed a pen register at its central offices to record the numbers dialed from the telephone at petitioner's home. The police did not get a warrant or court order before having the pen register installed. The register revealed that on March 17 a call was placed from petitioner's home to McDonough's phone. On the basis of this and other evidence, the police obtained a warrant to search petitioner's residence. The search revealed that a page in petitioner's phone book was turned down to the name and number of Patricia McDonough; the phone book was seized. Petitioner was arrested, and a six-man lineup was held on March 19. McDonough identified petitioner as the man who had robbed her."       

Smith v. Maryland 442 U.S. 735 (1979) 

Smith v. Maryland 442 U.S. 735 (1979) 

Smith v. Maryland 442 U.S. 735 (1979) 

Question:

Whether the installation and use of a pen register to the text of the note constitutesa "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.         

Reasoning:

The Fourth Amendment guarantees "[the] right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." The application of the Fourth Amendment depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a "justifiable," a "reasonable," or a "legitimate expectation of privacy" that has been invaded by government action.

In applying the Katzanalysis to this case, it is important to begin by specifying precisely the nature of the state activity that is challenged. The activity here took the form of installing and using a pen register. Since the pen register was installed on telephone company property at the telephone company's central offices, petitioner obviously cannot claim that his "property" was invaded or that police intruded into a "constitutionally protected area."Petitioner's claim, rather, is that, notwithstanding the absence of a trespass, the State, as did the Government in Katz, infringed a "legitimate expectation of privacy" that petitioner held. Yet a pen register differs significantly from the listening device employed in Katz, for pen registers do not acquire the contents of communications.

"Indeed, a law enforcement official could not even determine from the use of a pen register whether a communication existed. These devices do not hear sound. They disclose only the telephone numbers that have been dialed -- a means of establishing communication. Neither the purport of any communication between the caller and the recipient of the call, their identities, nor whether the call was even completed is disclosed by pen registers."

Given a pen register's limited capabilities, therefore, petitioner's argument that its installation and use constituted a "search" necessarily rests upon a claim that he had a "legitimate expectation of privacy" regarding the numbers he dialed on his phone.

First, we doubt that people in generalentertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial. All telephone users realize that they must "convey" phone numbers to the telephone company,since it is through telephone company switching equipment that their calls are completed. It is too much to believe that telephone subscribers, under these circumstances, harbor any general expectation that the numbers they dial will remain secret.

The site of the call is immaterial for purposes of analysis in this case. Although petitioner's conduct may have been calculated to keep the contents of his conversation private, his conduct was not and could not have been calculated to preserve the privacy of the number he dialed. Regardless of his location, petitioner had to convey that number to the telephone company in precisely the same way if he wished to complete his call. The fact that he dialed the number on his home phone rather than on some other phone could make no conceivable difference, nor could any subscriber rationally think that it would.

Second, even if petitioner did harbor some subjective expectation that the phone numbers he dialed would remain private, this expectation is not "one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable.' A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.

This analysis dictates that petitioner can claim no legitimate expectation of privacy here. When he used his phone, petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company and "exposed" that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of business. In so doing, petitioner assumed the risk that the company would reveal to police the numbers he dialed. The switching equipment that processed those numbers is merely the modern counterpart of the operator who, in an earlier day, personally completed calls for the subscriber.

Justice Blackmun decides Smith v. Maryland

Holding:

Petitionerin all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and that, even if he did, his expectation was not "legitimate." The installation and use of a pen register, consequently, was not a "search," and no warrant was required


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Key Takeaway

When you knowingly expose information to a third party, there is no REP.    


Court Syllabus:

The telephone company, at police request, installed at its central offices a pen register to record the numbers dialed from the telephone at petitioner's home. Prior to his robbery trial, petitioner moved to suppress "all fruits derived from" the pen register. The Maryland trial court denied this motion, holding that the warrantless installation of the pen register did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Petitioner was convicted, and the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The installation and use of the pen register was not a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and hence no warrant was required.

(a) Application of the Fourth Amendment depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a "legitimate expectation of privacy" that has been invaded by government action. This inquiry normally embraces two questions: first, whether the individual has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, whether his expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable."

(b) Petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and even if he did, his expectation was not "legitimate." First, it is doubtful that telephone users in general have any expectation of privacy regarding the numbers they dial, since they typically know that they must convey phone numbers to the telephone company and that the company has facilities for recording this information and does in fact record it for various legitimate business purposes. And petitioner did not demonstrate an expectation of privacy merely by using his home phone rather than some other phone, since his conduct, although perhaps calculated to keep the contents of his conversation private, was not calculated to preserve the privacy of the number he dialed. Second, even if petitioner did harbor some subjective expectation of privacy, this expectation was not one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable." When petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the phone company and "exposed" that information to its equipment in the normal course of business, he assumed the risk that the company would reveal the information to the police.


How the Justices Voted

Majority: Blackmun, joined by Burger, White, Rehnquist, Stevens

Dissent: Stewart, joined by Brennan

Dissent: Marshall, joined by Brennan