Cell phone privacy: The Supreme Court protects personal info

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Last week, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police officers must obtain a search warrant to search the cell phones of arrestees, correctly applying the spirit of the Constitution to the realities of modern technology. 

Law enforcement has long been able to search immediate personal effects without a warrant after making an arrest, and it argued that the practice should extend to cell phones.

The court soundly rejected that, and rightly so. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that cell phones “are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” 

Cell phones can contain years of phone records, emails, bank statements and social media messages.

In the same way that an arrest does not automatically entitle police to search the arrestee’s house or locked drawers without a warrant, police officers must demonstrate probable cause to a judge before rifling through the information contained on a cell phone.

The court resoundingly rejected each of the government’s arguments, ensuring that this 9-0 decision will remain influential in deciding future privacy cases. In the digital era where privacy seems increasingly threatened, a little rebalancing in favor of the Fourth Amendment ought to do a lot of good.

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