Sr Site Supporter
- Mar 28, 2010
- Planet Earth
A pedestrian uses a smartphone as he walks along Market Street on June 5, 2013 in San Francisco, California.
Supreme Court rules cell phones cannot be searched without a warrant
06/25/14 10:24 AM—UPDATED 06/25/14 09:09 PM
By Adam Serwer
Police need a warrant to search the cell phone of a person who has been arrested, absent special circumstances, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”
The high court took two cases involving cell phone searches, one involving a smartphone and the other involving a relatively basic flip phone. In both cases, police used information on each phone to connect the plaintiffs to crimes. San Diego Police used pictures in David Leon Riley’s smartphone, and the guns they found in his trunk after pulling him over for a traffic violation, to tie him to a local faction of the Bloods street gang and an earlier shooting. In Boston, Brima Wurie was arrested on suspicion of being involved in selling drugs and a picture linked to a phone call on his flip phone to a stash of crack cocaine.
The decision will likely have long-lasting implications for digital privacy, far beyond the immediate concern surrounding how and when police can search a mobile device. Police are typically allowed to search an individual after an arrest, but Roberts wrote that the amount of personal information contained on a cell phone made such a search different from the usual objects authorities might find when asking someone to empty their pockets.
“A cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house,” he wrote. “A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form—unless the phone is.”