Supreme Court rules officers need a warrant to search cell phones
June 26, 2014
The 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.