Supreme Court Requires Warrant for Cell Phone Searches by Police

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that police must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a cell phone seized from someone who has been arrested, absent a true emergency situation. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed an amicus brief in the case, Riley v. California.

Steven R. Shapiro, the national legal director of the ACLU, had this reaction:

“By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans. We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government’s ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives.”   

Writing the court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said:

“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’… The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant.”

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