After hearing evidence presented in two related cases, the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday decided that police officers must not be allowed to search the contents of a suspect’s mobile phone as a standard procedure without first securing a warrant to do so. This ruling stands in contrast to arguments made by the Obama administration, which suggest authorities should be allowed to view any and all personal information contained in increasingly advanced smartphones.
Those leaps in technological capabilities, however, are exactly why Chief Justice John Roberts believes cell phones should be off limits in a routine search.
“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” he asserted. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.”
Justices heard testimony from a variety of witnesses, including media representatives and libertarian advocates who contend that smartphones are basically personal, portable computers that should require a specific warrant prior to an officer’s invasion of such private data.
Roberts agreed, noting there is little similarity between traditional items – such as a pack of cigarettes – that an officer can search during an initial investigation and the huge cache of information contained in the average mobile phone.
He offered an analogy to transportation, noting that one could say that both a ride on a horse and in a rocket “are ways of getting from point A to point B; but little else justifies lumping them together.”
As Western Journalism reported, one of the cases leading to this decision resulted when a man’s home was searched after police determined from his cell phone that he might be involved in the sale of narcotics.
Ultimately, Brima Wurie appealed his conviction. Though an appeals court sided with him, another drug-related charge carrying a 20-year sentence was left intact. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.
The other case presented prior to Wednesday’s decision involved a San Diego man who was linked to a number of crimes after police found evidence of gang involvement in his smartphone. Justices demanded the California Supreme Court to reopen the case against David Leon Riley.
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