Today, the US Supreme Court Gave A Huge Victory to Cell-Phone Privacy.

Posted By Levi

June 25th, 2014 7:15pm

Category: Civil Liberties

cops and cellphones

Police can no longer seized your cell phone or other digital devices and search them without a warrant. Today, the United States Supreme Court, in a  9-0 ruling, handed down a rare victory for privacy.

The Court said with one voice that if the cops seized your cellphone and want to search through its contents, they must first get a warrant from a judge. In other words, they can’t search it simply because they seized it.

Normally, if you are arrested, the police can search you and examine all contents that they find in your possession. For example, if you are carrying a container in your pocket the police can search it for drugs without a warrant.

The Obama administration wanted the Court to rule that cell phone searches are no different from other searches. However, the Court quite rightly rejected this view. When it comes to cell phones, it’s a different matter.


Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion.”

He continues:

 “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person. The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone. They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers. One of the most notable distinguishing features of modern cell phones is their immense storage capacity.”

The Court said that a cell phone with 16 gigabytes of storage is equivalent to “millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos.” And that means that it’s possible to reconstruct someone’s entire life just based on data found on the phone:

In other words, your entire private life can be reconstructed through thousands of photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions; the same cannot be said of a photograph or two of loved ones tucked into a wallet.

In the court’s mind, that’s a lot of privacy to give up for not a lot of law enforcement benefit.

If the police stop you, can they still look at your phone?

Yes, if you consent to them doing so. Otherwise, you can simply say “I do not consent to a search.”

Of course, as it with all laws, there are exceptions to this rule but they can be applied only in rare cases.

Twitter: @Levianthony123

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