Supreme Court rules against warrantless search of cellphones

After the oral argument that took place on April 29, 2014, in Riley v. California, on June 25, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police “may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested”.

According to the Court “a warrant less search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement”.

The Court states that “A conclusion that inspecting the contents of an arrestee’s pockets works no substantial additional intrusion on privacy beyond the arrest itself may make sense as applied to physical items, but more substantial privacy interests are at stake when digital data is involved.

Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be carried on an arrestee’s person. Notably, modern cell phones have an immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, hundreds of videos. This has several interrelated privacy consequences. First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, the phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. Third, data on the phone can date back for years. In addition, an element of pervasiveness characterizes cell phones but not physical records. A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.”

In order to comply with the Fourth Amendment, the court concluded that before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest police shall simply “get a warrant”.

The decision is available at http://www.supremecourt…

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