Supreme Court rules officers need a warrant to search cell phones

June 26, 2014

mn_transborder-cellphone450x367The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that police generally need a warrant before searching the cellphones or personal electronic devices of a person arrested, striking a blow against the breakdown of personal privacy rights.

Proponents of warrantless searches argued that law enforcement searches of cell phones and other digital devices compare to contraband searches officers routinely do after making an arrest. Law enforcement officials added that searching a cell phone was like looking into someone’s pocket.

“That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together. Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” Roberts wrote.

Law enforcement also argued the need to search phones, often a criminal’s tool, before evidence could be deleted.

Roberts acknowledged that cell phones are essential tools for today’s criminals. However, he wrote that individual rights sometimes outweigh the convenience of government.

“Privacy comes at a cost,” Roberts wrote.


15 Comments

  1. mrcyberdoc says:

    OK, what am I missing? Police need a search warrent, but our government / Homeland security can do as it pleases in tracking and capturing our phone calls. Does anyone see a double starndard here?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. r0y says:

    This is an step in the obvious direction, but I fear it has only been taken because we, as a society, have been slammed back miles in regards to privacy and the 4th amendment.

    The ACLU “quietly” supports this, as well – I wish they’d promote privacy and individual rights and freedoms (or the squashing thereof) as much as they like to promote protected-class rights and freedoms.

    I, too, used to work at No Such Agency. I also was impressed by how easy and readily available surveillance on pretty much anything was to get. Of course, back then, we actually did have rules and guidelines about US Citizens and allies when we were blanket-targeting things. We dropped the intercept immediately. I fear that is no longer the case; probably has not been since the Patriot Act (or before).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    • Dirk Anderson says:

      I repaired vintage telecommunications equipment and a couple of NSA Crypto machines in the Military. I can’t claim extensive experience, but it was adequate. The Russians knew more about this now decrepit equipment than I did. I did not work for the NSA directly. Besides the hardware, I certainly have a certain appreciation for the world wide distribution network of encryption key lists etc. for this now historic equipment.
      This and some “other” factors have enabled me to get a certain sense for the sheer scope and magnitude of today’s telecom network mass surveillance, and not just limited to the NSA. Due to sheer volume, presently this data is to a certain extent unmanageable and it’s implementation dysfunctional; but they are working on it.
      Local area phone surveillance of a few dealers peddling around is small potato’s in comparison, to the point of becoming almost a red-herring.
      This issue is not resonating with the general public to the point that they would want to sacrifice convenience for the sake of privacy. Many, armed and empowered with the latest
      greatest Tech toys infringe upon others privacy and participate in a certain surveillance themselves. They just want to yak on their cell phones etc. It would take a competent IT Professional (I’m not) to adequately grasp the subject. Like the early days of radio, there will probably be a consolidation and monopolization of telecommunications network power.
      For me, this is not much other than an exercise in learning about the Internet and Telecom networks.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. NorthCountyGuy says:

    To many cops in SLO County are professional liars (i.el, prostitutes of the highest bidders). They lie to cover up the violent crimes of their buddies. They lie to frame the innocent victims of their buddies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

    • r0y says:

      I do not think this is limited to cops or any profession, per se. Rather, any institution that is rigorous (perceived or otherwise) in their regimentation to instill a strong esprit de corps or brotherhood will often have a result such as you’re seeing. Covering each other’s backs, as it were. We can see this in most unionized and/or quasi-militarized, hierarchical entities.

      Basically, people just want to belong – and if the family unit is non-existent or too small, then people will grasp at their professions and institutions. Look at how lock-step colleges, universities and even K-12 schools have become; firefighters are not exempt; government workers, etc. I could go on.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. SpeakTruth says:

    Law enforcement officers shouldn’t need to be told by the Supreme Court that they need a warrant in the first place. All LEOs take an oath to the US Constitution. Anyone who did this willingly violated the 4th amendment and subsiquently their oath. Shame on them!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  5. Dirk Anderson says:

    I mentioned on a local talk show, well over a year ago, that I saw an incident in one of the local parks that appeared to be one of these Cell Phone surveillance operations “Operation Stingray”. There was no warrant involved that I was aware of. I have been led to believe that these operations are not completely selective and do monitor the conversations of those not specifically targeted.

    I fell into this subject of privacy and surveillance more or less by accident. I find it disconcerting.

    I have spent a little more time attempting to educate myself about network surveillance over the internet. The subject is vast and in an attempt to see more of the bigger picture, I have found this video that (hopefully) lives here helpful:

    YouTube: http://youtu.be/M66saPW2Gq8

    One of many excellent points Binny makes is that NSA surveillance is so vast that at present it is dysfunctional and not likely to be effective against threats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • zaphod says:

      really

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Dirk Anderson says:

        Thank you as I stated, I mentioned this well over a year ago, do the math 2013 yes.

        In addition, well over a year ago I put my name to comments regarding NSA surveillance, which is more than you appear to be doing. I repaired NSA Crypto Machines, really.

        I have not owned a cell phone in years, and I have never personally owned a computer. My threat model is about the sum of 0. I don’t want to argue with the authorities on the subject, I’m not going to fight this one.

        It should be noted that Mr Binny in the video that I recommend I consider a true Patriot with some serious stones, he is no doubt still under the effect of some sort of non disclosure agreement. I signed one myself a long time ago, really.

        So I just learned how to cut and paste, Duh.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Dirk Anderson says:

          As if I just got off the Turnip Truck?

          *Try: http://cyberlahlah.blogspot.com/2014/06/telecom-network-surveillance.html#more

          This will be updated periodically (with Pay Pal), especially SSL Certificates etc.

          Some I won’t go into publicly, more where this came from. Like I’m on the clock and get paid the big bucks, like some of these LEO’s whom apparently have a lot of time on their hands and show up here?

          Besides the Technical aspect of this, I believe there is a huge price to pay regarding the health of the Culture and Society in general. When I have one of these degenerates from the Men’s Colony pull a Cell Phone out from his smelly sleeping bag and report me to the Police over something he started, Houston we got a problem.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. MarkJames says:

    Judges give LE a search warrant based on the flimsiest of evidence and out right lies. It takes all of a few minutes to call the judge and get the warrant. The judges are nothing but yes men these day’s.

    Would someone tell me the last time a judge refused a cop with a GED and a 6 month extended education a search warrant for the asking. Not that I’m complaining about the fact that some progress has been made to protect our rights but it’s ashamed that our protections are constantly being violated in the first place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

    • RUserious says:

      Mark,

      What police agency do you work. Oh wait you probably don’t. How many warrants have you written, let me guess NONE. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that if a warrant does not have probable cause it gets turned down by a judge.

      If you believe judges just say yes to everything. Then all defense attorneys in our county are stupid. Because their are legal motions to traverse or quash warrants that do not have adequate probable cause.

      I am sorry if you are bitter but at least try to be fair.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 10

      • mkaney says:

        I find it HIGHLY ironic that someone working for a police agency in this country would suggest to anyone else that they should at least try to be fair. That take some serious cognitive dissonance; the same cognitive dissonance that it takes to be able to justify your ridiculous salaries.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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