When the Founding Fathers established the Bill of Rights, nobody could envision the type of technology we have today. People in the 18th century knew nothing of cellphones (or landline telephones).
Today’s world of high-tech devices and digital data could not have been imagined when the Bill of Rights was written.
Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court is contemplating hearing a case in which a suspect believes his Fourth Amendment right to privacy was violated because police officers scrolled through information in his cellphone during a routine traffic stop. Information in the cellphone — essentially a hand-held computer — tied him to a gang shooting.
Lower courts, to this point, are split on whether searching the electronic contents of a cellphone is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The high court needs to take this case before the searching of cellphones, laptops or anything else with digital information becomes routine.
We believe the justices should make it clear a search warrant is needed to scroll through electronic devices.
That would seem to be in line with the Fourth Amendment — “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The right to privacy was adopted specifically to protect Americans from door-to-door searches by the government in the hope evidence of a crime will be found.
Cellphones are essentially the “papers” of the 1700s that were secure. People in that day had an expectation of privacy in their personal papers just as people today have an expectation of privacy regarding the information in their electronic devices.
If police have reason to suspect evidence is in a cellphone or computer or any other devices, they can get a search warrant. It could be done relatively easily without allowing the suspect to destroy the information.
However, if police have absolutely no reason to suspect someone of a crime, they shouldn’t be allowed to scavenge for evidence.