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Supreme Court: No Cell Phone Searches Without a Warrant

The Supreme Court struck down warrantless searches of cell phones by a 9-0 vote.

File photo
File photo
By Brian Slupski

Police cannot search a person's cellphone following an arrest unless they have a warrant, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the right of the police to search an arrested suspect at the scene did not extend to cell phone data, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The decision was based on three cases including one that involved a traffic stop in California. David Riley was arrested on weapons charges and the arresting officer went through the man's phone and found the repeated use of a term associated with a street gang.

At the station a detective went through the phone again and found photos and video in connection with a shooting that had occurred weeks earlier. The man was charged in the shooting and his attorney moved to suppress the evidence that had been gathered via the cell phone.

Roberts noted the tremendous amount of information that can be stored on modern day cell phones and that the "possible intrusion on privacy is not physically limited" when it comes to cell phones.

"The sum of an individual's private life can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions," Roberts wrote. "[T]he same cannot be said of a photograph or two of loved ones tucked into a wallet."

The U.S. government and the state of California cited previous cases in defending the search. Notably, that police can search suspects to ensure their safety and also raised the possibility that evidence on a cell phone could be remotely destroyed. The court did not consider potential evidence destruction to be a likely occurrence.

"Prior to the digital age, people did not typically carry a cache of sensitive personal information with them as they went about their day," Roberts wrote. "Now it is the person who is not carrying a cell phone, with all that it contains, who is the exception."

USA Today noted that this ruling could be a precursor on a range of other issues, notably an examination of the National Security Agency's surveillance methods.

MORE: Is the Government Spying on Your 'Smart Home'?
Chuck Ruff June 27, 2014 at 07:53 AM
You can always consent to a search, then the officer can legally search your phone, car, bag, whatever... without a warrant. Furthermore, you're only showing him your call log, not the content of everything on your phone.
CulverCityNative June 27, 2014 at 01:15 PM
Agree 100% with this ruling.
Julie Greene June 27, 2014 at 02:00 PM
I don't think they should search anything without a warrant, and just because they are cops doesn't give them any more privileges to do a search than anyone else. You home, your body, your property...these are you and your personal space. Searching or seizing is not respectful. It's normally considered rude, never mind illegal, and should be an exception, not the norm, so paperwork should be required to override common human dignity. I think that's one thing that a person, simply because they are BORN, has. We don't have reason to demand much else but our dignity, privacy, and to ask to be treated with respect.
Steven Swedenburg June 27, 2014 at 02:22 PM
Julie: Well put, the right to privacy stems from a Basic Human Right Codified in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Just as we have the right to defend ourselves, our family's and Property from tyrants whether they be external or internal (government). They break into your house Shoot for the head, they are committing a Felony under color of law, still illegal still wrong. Does not matter if they have the Teashirts.
Ditty51 June 29, 2014 at 06:48 PM
ok, so this is following an ARREST. what about if you're pulled over in your car? I've heard some cops ask to see your phone to see if you've been texting while driving.

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