Supreme Court: Police may not search smartphones without warrant
Police across the country must get a search warrant if they want to view the data inside cellphones seized from people they arrest, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a decision hailed by many as a strong defense of digital-age privacy.
“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.”
The message to police about what they should do before rummaging through a cellphone's contents following an arrest is simple, Roberts said: “Get a warrant.”
The chief justice acknowledged that barring searches would affect law enforcement but said: “Privacy comes at a cost.”
The Obama administration and the state of California, defending the cellphone searches, said cellphones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else police find.
But the defendants in these cases — backed by civil libertarians and news media groups — argued that cellphones, especially smartphones, are increasingly powerful computers that can store troves of sensitive personal information.
“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,” said American Civil Liberties Union legal director Steven Shapiro.
University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris called the ruling “a big one,” in part because the court doesn't always understand technology and its consequences.
“Here, there's a very strong sense that not only do the justices understand what cellphones and smartphones are, they have them. You really get a sense they know how deep and wide the information stored in a cell phone is,” he said.
“It's the equivalent of a personal diary in very great detail with pictures to illustrate it. ... The court was right to put this protection on it.”
Though police in Pennsylvania are required to obtain a search warrant or consent to search a cellphone, the ruling “reaffirms” Pennsylvanians' Fourth Amendment rights, said Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Blaine Jones.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires investigators to convince a judge they have probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
“The Supreme Court's ruling basically upheld what's been done in Pennsylvania. This bolstering of rights, however, is so important because it's the opposite of what I've seen taking place throughout the years,” Jones said.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a concurring opinion that he would prefer elected lawmakers, not judges, to decide matters of privacy protection in the 21st Century. Elected officials “are in a better position than we are to assess and respond to the changes that have already occurred and those that almost certainly will take place in the future,” Alito said.
Trib Total Media staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Medicare payments to tie doctor, hospital payments to quality rather than volume of care
- New York City hunkers down as Nor’easter threatens blizzard conditions
- Dems stall Keystone XL legislation
- Boy, 13, arrested in fatal stabbing at David Wark Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles
- Ramping up e-cigarette voltage may be more hazardous to health
- VA plans major structure changes; Pittsburgh’s fate as regional HQ remains unclear
- American drone hit kills al-Qaida terror suspects in Yemen
- National debt due to sharply escalate
- Mannequin on billboard in Iowa spurs calls to 911
- Orcas could land on endangered list
- Santa Ana winds cut power to thousands in Southern California