The U.S. Supreme Court made another important ruling regarding privacy rights. This time it ruled unanimously that police officers needed search warrants before they could go through a suspect’s cell phone or tablet to look for additional information upon the suspect’s arrest. Generally, speaking, these searches are allowed after police establish “probable cause” or, in other words, they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
The Justices essentially ruled that smartphones and related electronic devices were not in the same categories as wallets and vehicles; items that could be searched upon an arrest without the need for a warrant. The Court reasoned that simply because such small devices are capable of carrying vast amounts of information do not make them less worthy of Constitutional protection. As such, it ruled that officers must first obtain a warrant before conducting a search.
The case emanated from similar cases in California and Massachusetts. In the California matter, a suspect was arrested after weapons were found in his a car after it was impounded for not having proper registration. After the arrest, police searched his phone and found evidence linking him to a drive-by shooting. The Massachusetts case involved a suspect arrested for selling drugs. A search of his phone led to evidence linking him to a drug ring.
In its ruling, the Court did not specify whether these convictions should be overturned. Nevertheless, the Court appears to have made a clear distinction between personal items that can be searched to identify a suspect, and what may be viewed as an illegal search.
Source: CNN.com “High Court: Police need a warrant to search cell phones,” Bill Mears, June 25, 2014