The Supreme Court announced today that police officers will now need warrants to search through a person’s cell phone. The vote was unanimous. The Court made it very clear that digital privacy in today’s technological world is extremely important, and that American’s have a constitutional right to digital privacy.
Previously, when a person is arrested, it was very possible that an officer would search through that person’s cellphone. Sometimes, the police would find records or pictures of things like drug transactions, and use this evidence to bring additional charges against the accused. For example, of the police suspected a person of running a drug ring, they were technically able to stop that person for a minor traffic violation, and proceed to search his or her cell phone for evidence of drug trafficking in the hopes of making an arrest.
The Court made clear that “cell phones” as we know them are actually so much more than just phones today. They are essentially mini, portable computers. The Court said that the process of searching cell phones as described above is nothing more than a way to skirt around the Fourth Amendment protections. The Court did, however, leave open the possibility of these types of searched in certain crucial circumstances, such as in cases of terroristic threats or child abduction scenarios.
Courts have struggled in the past with drawing a line relating to technology and police searches. There were many arguments presented for both sides of the debate. Ultimately, the Supreme Court clarified this line today by simply telling police, when it comes to cellphones, “Get a warrant.”