Supreme Court: Police Need Warrants to Search Cellphone Data

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The Supreme Court has ruled police must almost always obtain a warrant before searching mobile devices seized when arresting someone, extending constitutional privacy protections to the increasingly vast amounts of data Americans keep on smartphones, cellphones and other hand-held digital technology.

The court, in a unanimous ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said both the quantity and quality of information contained in modern hand-held devices is constitutionally protected from police intrusion without a warrant. "Modern cellphones aren't a technological convenience," Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

"With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" he wrote.

The ruling rejected law-enforcement arguments that cellphones fell under a long-standing exception to the warrant requirement that allows police to search the contents of suspects' pockets to make sure they don't carry weapons or destroy evidence.

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Supreme Court in the case of Riley v California has established an important precedent about the need for law enforcement officers to secure a warrant before searching someone's cell phone. He also established a crucial cultural precedent by ruling, accurately, that iPhones and Androids and such aren't really phones at all.

“They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers,” the judge ruled.

Supreme Court: Police Need Warrants to Search Cellphone Data Judge John Roberts rules that iPhones aren't really phones (Vox) Major Ruling Shields Privacy of Cellphones (NYTimes) Supreme Court rules on searches of cellphones: 'Get a warrant' (The Hill) Cops must have a warrant to search cell phones, rules Supreme Court (ars technica)