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.


  1. Supreme Court Requires Warrants for Cell Searches, But won’t Protect Internet Streaming

    L'Enfant de la Haute Mer(

  2. Four Ways the Fourth Amendment No Longer Applies to Our Lives

    L'Enfant de la Haute Mer(

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

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



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