Smartphones are off limits to authorities unless they obtain a warrant—according to the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The 4th amendment to the United States Constitution states that citizens are free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government authorities of their persons and property. This typically means that a warrant is required before a search can be conducted.
However, throughout the years, the courts have ruled that warrantless searches are acceptable in certain situations and not unreasonable under the 4th amendment. The search of a purse and wallet are a couple of examples.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently reviewed a case about the search of an individual’s cellphone and whether a warrant was needed prior to the search. In an age where there are more cellphones than people, the public was eagerly awaiting the decision.
Riley v. California
The case, Riley v. California, was about a man who was arrested after being pulled over for a traffic violation. The officer seized the man’s cellphone located in his pant’s pocket and proceeded to access the digital information on the phone. Gang-related information was uncovered and the evidence was used to later charge the man with a shooting that occurred a few weeks prior.
His attorney filed a motion to suppress the information unlawfully obtained from the man’s cellphone. The court denied the motion and the man was subsequently convicted.
The appeal eventually landed in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month, the court issued a ruling in the matter-a ruling that was a win for constitutional rights’ advocates.
The SCOTUS decision
The court essentially ruled that the search of a person’s cellphone without a warrant is an unreasonable search under the 4th amendment.
According to the court, searching a cellphone is far different from the search of a person’s wallet, purse, or address book. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that searching a person’s smartphone is even more intrusive than searching a person’s home.
“A cell phone 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 – unless the phone is,” Chief Justice Roberts stated.
Although the ruling isn’t good news for law enforcement officials who insinuate that the decision makes it far more difficult for police to combat crime today, the decision provides greater guidance on privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution when it comes to digital technology.
It remains to be seen what future technological advances will be developed and the constitutional protections involved. For now, smartphones are off limits to authorities unless they obtain a warrant.
Keywords: smartphone, search, 4th amendment, warrant