Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Supremes: In General, Cops Need A Warrant To Search Digital Content Of Suspect's Cell Phone

This decision is big. In it, a unanimous 9-0 Supreme Court (!!) holds that, with a few exceptions already long established in Fourth Amendment law, if you are carrying a cell phone when police apprehend you and search you, if they want to page through your phone directory, photos, emails, recent text messages, etc., they need a warrant. This recognizes the intrinsic difference between your cell phone and, say, the contents of your car's glove box: a glove box can easily contain a weapon that you could use to harm an arresting officer or a bystander; a cell phone, not so much. (There is of course a distinction between what the phone "contains" physically, e.g., a razor blade, and what the phone "contains" as digitally represented information about you.)

This is a most welcome decision. Until now, a cop searching the digital content of your cell phone could easily turn up more private information about you than s/he could in a similar search of, say, all your paper file cabinets in your home. Searches of paper documents are fairly easy to specify in ways that prevent "fishing expeditions"; more to the point, no one denies the Fourth Amendment applies to them. Searches of the digital content of your iPhone are intrinsically unrestricted by the nature of the device; they render the Fourth Amendment useless if no warrant is required for such a search.

I found this article by Dahlia Lithwick interesting; you may want to read it.

(H/T Enfant de la Haute Mer in comments to the preceding post for alerting me to this decision. I've been busy with housework and not doing my homework.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: emptywheel has other ideas altogether about what the decision may mean, and not all her conclusions point to actual benefits to civil liberties.

4 comments:

  1. Supreme Court Requires Warrants for Cell Searches, But won’t Protect Internet Streaming
    http://www.juancole.com/2014/06/searches-internet-streaming.html

    L'Enfant de la Haute Mer(http://inconue.wordpress.com)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Four Ways the Fourth Amendment No Longer Applies to Our Lives
    http://www.thenation.com/article/180427/four-ways-fourth-amendment-no-longer-applies-our-lives#

    L'Enfant de la Haute Mer(http://inconue.wordpress.com)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm always shocked (and suspicious) when the Sup Ct seems to do the right thing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mad - especially THIS Supreme Court! Don't get me started...

    ReplyDelete

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