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Cell phones cannot be searched by cops without search warrant: Supreme Court

Digital device that can no longer be searched without a search warrant: Supreme Court, June 25, 2014
Photo by Scott Paulson

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that police must obtain a search warrant before searching mobile devices that are seized from a citizen during an arrest of the individual. This measure extends constitutional privacy protection to the data that people have on cell phones, smart phones and any other hand-held digital technology device, according to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

While many recent decisions by the Supreme Court – especially controversial decisions by the high court – have been split decision, the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the cell phone privacy was a unanimous ruling, according to the Chicago Tribune. Chief Justice John Roberts presented the unanimous ruling by saying that both the quantity and quality of information contained in modern hand-held technology devices is constitutionally protected from the intrusion of police personnel. He asserted that police must have a warrant to search such devices.

Roberts wrote that modern cell phones are not a technological convenience, reports the Chicago Tribune. He said that with all that these devices contain and all that they may reveal, they contain – for many Americans – the privacies of their lives. Therefore, access to them by authorities must be denied.

With this ruling, the asserted arguments made by law enforcement agencies throughout the country have been flatly rejected. Law enforcement agencies have said that they need to search the contents of criminal suspects’ pockets and belongings to make sure there is not a weapon present. These searches for weapons, however, do not include the police’s right to search technological devices. A warrant is needed to further examine a person’s devices.

As Chief Justice Roberts said, “<The Supreme Court’s> answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple.” He said that police must get a warrant. This ends the ongoing divisiveness with the low courts which have been dealing with the issue of privacy regarding technological devices. Privacy advocates are praising the ruling as a landmark decision by the high court. Law enforcement officials are reportedly disappointed with the decision as they have treated the searches of devices as constitutional prior to this ruling.