Supreme Court Upholds Privacy Rights in Requiring Warrant to Search Cell Phones
It was a big win for advocates of privacy rights groups on June 25, 2014 when the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police officers must obtain a search warrant before searching the mobile phones of people they arrest.
The initial victory is for the 12 million Americans who are arrested each year, but it’s potential reach is much broader. The ruling may likely apply to the search of computers, laptops and tablets and may extend to third parties like phone companies, which also hold phone records.
This decision signals that the U.S. Government realizes that we are now in a digital age and that our phones, tablets and cell phones store immeasurable amounts of private information. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
“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.”
This decision is the first of its kind and was based off of two cases in which police officers used cell phone records to make criminal arrests. One was a San Diego case where police were able to link a man to a gang based on pictures in his cell phone. The other was a case where pictures on his phone helped lead police officers to his hidden stash of cocaine. Both searches would have required a warrant under the new law.
Police officers will still be allowed to examine the exterior of a phone to make sure it does not have any weaponry, but the court specified that phone data could not be considered weaponry.
“Once an officer has secured a phone and eliminated any potential physical threats, however, data on the phone can endanger no one,” Justice Roberts said.
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