Supreme Court justices' cellphone privacy ruling likely to have broad impact
WASHINGTON — Privacy rights advocates are hoping the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling last month on cellphone privacy will have a broad impact on the clash between privacy and technology — perhaps even leading to decisions striking down the government's post-9/11 surveillance of Americans' telephone records.
The justices' 9-0 ruling that police need a warrant to search a cellphone — issued amid a flurry of late June decisions on religious liberty, abortion protests and presidential powers — was arguably the most significant of the 2013-14 term.
Unlike cases decided by narrow 5-4 margins or those in which justices differed over the reasoning, Chief Justice John Roberts' cellphone opinion was notable for “the emphatic, emphatic message from the court that digital is different,” said Jeffrey Fisher, the Stanford University law professor who successfully argued one of the two cellphone cases.
Theodore Simon, incoming president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is devoting his first column in the group's monthly magazine to the potential impact on precedents. He foresees “a sea change in how one would look at future cases that in any way involve searches and seizures, and where there is the possibility of the revelation of significant personal data.”
The ruling could affect cases involving the use of drones to collect large amounts of digital data. “Drones aren't like the ever-present policeman with binoculars in a helicopter,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law.