Last week the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to resolve an issue, and rule that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless cellphone searches.
In a petition filed earlier this month, the Obama administration has requested the Supreme court to review an earlier ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, that ruled police should have obtained a warrant before accessing information on a defendant's cellphone. Earlier court cases have ruled that police have the right to use their judgment on whether to search various possessions on an arrested person; including personal items like planners, calendars and personal papers.
The Obama administration argues that a cellphone is no different, and that the First Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling conflicts with the rulings of several other appeals courts, as well as with earlier Supreme Court cases.
The Obama administration claims that cellphones are similar to these other items suspects may be carrying. This would mean the police can access all other information on a suspects phone that may be personal. Cellphones are often used to store photographs, videos, emails, and some also store internet searches.
The Court’s intervention to resolve the conflict of authority, and to provide courts and law-enforcement officers with clear guidance about officers’ authority to search cell phones found on the person arrested, is warranted. Over the last decade, cell phones have become ubiquitous in the United States. Inexpensive, disposable phones that are difficult to trace are particularly common in drug-trafficking conspiracies. …Even low level drug dealers often use at least two cellphones “one for arranging drug deals and another for personal use.” For that reason, it is critically important for police to quickly search cell phones of those arrested for drug-trafficking offenses in order to confirm the arrestee’s identity, locate contraband, identify confederates, and obtain communications and records related to trafficking activities. Time is of the essence when one member of a drug-trafficking or other conspiracy is arrested, because other members may flee or destroy evidence upon learning of his apprehension.