Supreme Court to Law Enforcement: Get a Warrant

In a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a warrant to search citizens’ cell phones looking for evidence during an arrest.

This ruling represents a huge win for privacy rights of American citizens. The idea of digital property rights has been in question for years since the dawn of the digital age. Now, this key ruling takes a huge leap forward to protecting citizens from law enforcement overreach.

supreme court cell phone ruling

CNN– Criminal suspects in Massachusetts and California were separately convicted, in part, after phone numbers, text messages, photos and addresses obtained from personal electronic devices linked them to drug and gang activity.

Those cases were appealed to the high court, giving it an opportunity to re-enter the public debate over the limits of privacy rights, with a focus on the ubiquitous cellphone and its vast storage of information and video…

The appeals were not related to the recent mass surveillance of phone metadata by the National Security Agency, which has raised similar constitutional concerns.

“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,” the ruling said. “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.”

Ellen Canale, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the agency would work with law enforcement to ensure “full compliance” with the decision.

“We will make use of whatever technology is available to preserve evidence on cell phones while seeking a warrant, and we will assist our agents in determining when exigent circumstances or another applicable exception to the warrant requirement will permit them to search the phone immediately without a warrant,” Canale said…

Broader Impact

Unclear from the high court’s ruling is whether other defendants convicted on such electronic evidence will also have their cases dismissed.

But the court minced no words in separating such devices from other things a person might have on them when detained by police.

“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.”

The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

While this case is a huge victory for anyone who carries a cell phone, the bulk collection of cell phone data by the NSA is still to be determined (as stated by Bill Mears in the article).

Given that there was a unanimous consensus on this case, a ruling against the NSA’s data mining should not be unexpected once the case arrives in Supreme Court (and it will arrive sooner or later).

Read the full article from CNN here.

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