Court Rules Crypto Traders Don’t Have Privacy Interest In Transaction Records  


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According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, law enforcement officials do not need a search warrant to get account records from a cryptocurrency exchange or from the public blockchain. On June 20, 2020 the court ruled that cryptocurrency exchange account holders do not have a constitutionally cognizable privacy interest in their transaction history and therefore do not enjoy the search and seizure protections ensured by the Fourth Amendment. U.S. v. Gratkowski, 2020 WL 3530575 (5th Cir. June 20, 2020).


The Supreme Court has long held that a person generally “has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979). The third-party doctrine is a United States legal doctrine that holds that people who voluntarily give information to third parties such as banks, phone companies, internet service providers, and email servers have no reasonable expectation of privacy. A lack of privacy protection allows the United States government to obtain information from third parties without a legal warrant and without otherwise complying with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against search and seizure without probable cause and a judicial search warrant.

However, exceptions have been made to this principle in certain instances. For example, in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018) the court was faced with the question of whether the third party doctrine extends to cell-site records that track location and movement from where calls are made. Based on cell-site evidence obtained from a telecommunication provider, the government charged the defendant with robbery. The court held that expectations of privacy in this age of digital data do not fit neatly into existing precedents, but tracking a person’s movements and location through extensive cell-site records is far more intrusive than past precedents might have anticipated. Thus, the Court held narrowly that the government generally will need a warrant to access cell-site location information.

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