The U.S. Supreme Court issued a simple but firm ruling in regard to whether law enforcement can scroll through suspects’ cellphones or smartphones without a warrant. It can’t.
Modern cellphones “hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court in the unanimous ruling this week.
“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought,” Roberts wrote.
The high court’s decision makes it crystal clear that it makes no difference information is being stored with modern technology, the privacy rights that date back to the writing of the Constitution remain in tact.
Roberts said the search of a smartphone is akin to the search of a home.
Indeed, a cellphone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house: A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form (such as tracking a person’s movement),” Roberts said.
No doubt about it. This is exactly the type of personal intrusion the Founders were trying to prevent in adopting 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.”
Cellphones and computers essentially hold the secure “papers” (information) of the 1700s.
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 — and should — convince a judge there is probable cause to issue a search warrant.