Supremes to Cops: Get a Warrant if You want to Search Cell Phones

 

Meanwhile, back at the much-battered Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court, in a rare unanimous decision, ruled today that law enforcement needs to get a warrant before it can look through you cell phone.

The justices ruled in favor of the obvious; that cell phones are not like the chewing gum and old ticket stubs languishing in the bottom of your purse or pockets. Cell phones are small, but powerful, computers, that contain files which open up our entire lives.

The Court had issued rulings back in the 1970s allowing police to require suspects to empty their pockets and to use whatever they found there without obtaining a warrant. Law enforcement had extended that right to obtain the contents of a suspect’s pockets without a warrant to their cell phones. Today, the Court ruled that cell phones are not the same thing at all and that seizing and searching a person’s cell phone requires a warrant.

That’s good news for freedom lovers, as well as those who cherish the Fourth Amendment.

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an emphatic defense of privacy in the digital age, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police generally may not search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants.

Cellphones are unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. They are “not just another technological convenience,” he said, but ubiquitous, increasingly powerful computers that contain vast quantities of personal, sensitive information.

“With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Roberts declared. So the message to police about what they should do before rummaging through a cellphone’s contents following an arrest is simple: “Get a warrant.”


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