Supreme Court: Police Cannot Search Cell Phones Without A Warrant

Can police take your cellphone and get what information they want off of it? In many cases, that is what has been happening. But, that has now been deemed unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment in a huge decision favoring digital privacy. The ruling was a unanimous 9-0 that sends a clear message to law enforcement about how cell phone data is to be handled.

Police are, however, still allowed to examine a phone to make sure that it is not a weapon but, the ruling stated, “digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape.”

ACLU national legal director Steven R. Shapiro when asked about the ruling stated: “By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans. We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government’s ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives.”

The Supreme Court Case stemmed from 2 separate cases, one in California, the other in Massachusetts. This decision is notable because the court has struggled in past cases to define clear and broad rules where digital technology and constitutional rights collided.

“There was a real prospect that the Court would split the baby in the cell phone cases,” wrote Tom Goldstein, a member of the Supreme Court bar, on his website, SCOTUSBlog, in the wake of the ruling. “But the Court instead articulated a bright line rule that is much clearer and will be much easier to administer in practice.”

This Supreme Court ruling could begin a push back against the NSA’s massive wiretapping program that only came to light after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on it.