Supreme Court Taking Up Police Searches of Data Troves Known as Cellphones


NY Times:

Supreme Court Taking Up Police Searches of Data Troves Known as Cellphones

WASHINGTON — In a major test of how to interpret the Fourth Amendment in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider two cases about whether the police need warrants to search the cellphones of the people they arrest.“The implications of these cases are huge,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, noting that about 12 million people are arrested every year, often for minor offenses, and that about 90 percent of Americans have cellphones.
The justices will have to decide how to apply an 18th-century phrase — the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures” — to devices that can contain 100 times more information than is in the Library of Congress’s 72,000-page collection of James Madison’s papers.

The courts have long allowed warrantless searches in connection with arrests, saying they are justified by the need to protect police officers and to prevent the destruction of evidence. The Justice Department, in its Supreme Court briefs, said the old rule should apply to the new devices.
Others say there must be a different standard because of the sheer amount of data on and available through cellphones. In February, for instance, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals suppressed evidence found on the phone of a high school student who was arrested on charges of causing a disturbance on a school bus. “Searching a person’s cellphone,” the court said, “is like searching his home desk, computer, bank vault and medicine cabinet all at once.”

I think cops should need a warrant to search cell phones & other devices.


I agree. The cellphone is an extension of the glove compartment in the car or the filing cabinet in the home office, and if a warrant is needed to search the latter two, then it should be needed to search the former.


I absolutely agree. It is extremely dangerous to give the police force (and ultimately, the government) such unfettered and complete access to our personal information.


It completely depends on the type of data the police are looking for, the context of the arrest, etc.


There is literally NOTHING on a cell phone that’s a threat to the officers once it’s seized during the arrest. Nothing that cannot wait the 20-180 minutes to get a warrant for it, at least.




Exactly. Privacy rights is one of the most attacked rights of people these days.


I dont think they should be allowed to search anyones cell phone records at any time. This is a privacy issue to me, I believe our calls and texts should not even be stored as data, (by the carriers).

I know there are pre-pay cell phones, and there is no records on them, not even a name to the account, but in general, most carriers keep every single phone call, text, email sent from someones phone for a certain number of years!!

  1. Yes, there is. There are numerous cases in lower courts where officers have discovered messages about members of an arrestee’s gang coming to attack officers.

  2. You can’t argue there isn’t a serious risk of losing evidence via encryption or remote wipe.


Doesn’t matter. The Constitution pre-empts these concerns. “Supreme law of the land” means exactly what it ways.


That is the Constitution.


Apparently your constitution differs from the Constitution, the original of which I have seen in Washington, D.C.


I am deeply confused.

Why do you think only the written Constitution is the sole Constitution?

You realize that constitutional law consists of more than just the written words in the Constitution, surely?


Yes, but anything that contradicts the written words of the Constitution is, by definition, unconstitutional and must not be allowed. One should not be a cafeteria constitutionalist, just as one should not be a cafeteria Catholic.


Forth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If you take a conservative view of the Constitution that means either a “textualist” (what’s written in the document itself) or “originalist” (the intent of the Framers).

OR you can go with the “living Constitution” = the Constitution means what judges say it means. Thus Fourth Amendment law is now riddled with exceptions.
To me the cell phone case is simple. There is no question that police would need a warrant to search your file cabinets, home PC, bank records, &c. Cell phones now serve the same function of all those.


I disagree. We do things that contradict the words of the Constitution all the time.

For example: can the President restrict your freedom of speech through an executive order?


So . . . you’re agreeing with me that the police should have a warrant before they search a cell phone?


Show me in the Fourth Amendment where it says a warrant is required for a search.


You mean cops can break down the door of my home, do a search and seizure, anytime they feel like it?

What’s to distinguish them from thieves?


Police should be allowed search cellphones without a warrant. Everybody seems to think it’s an invasion of privacy, but come on, the only people this would affect are criminals. So, what do law abiding citizens have to hide? I would gladly give up privacy if it helps law enforcement fight crime.

LOVE! :heart:

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