Supreme Court Taking Up Police Searches of Data Troves Known as Cellphones
On Tuesday the Supreme Court justices will be challenged to apply the Fourth Amendment to the digital age. In two cases, Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, the justices will consider whether search warrants were necessary when police searched cell phones without a warrant and found information that led to charges.
In the case of Riley v. California, California contends that information on cell phones is no different from wallets, address books and other personal affects on the person that can be seized and examined at the time of arrest. California also believes that immediate searches are necessary because cell phone data can be erased, even remotely, before a warrant can be obtained.
The New York Times and several other news organizations filed a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that cell phone searches without warrants could limit or impede news gathering.
The Supreme Court justices are well versed in the law, but probably not so much in technology, now have to apply the 18th century law against “unreasonable search and seizure” to our smart phones. Even though smart phones will be found on people when they are arrested, I don’t think smart phones fall into the category of wallets and address books. They are so much more. Smart phones are computers that store e- mails, documents, photos, and with GPS capabilities can trace where we have been. There are technologies that can be used to block cell phone data erasure. I believe the Supreme Court should rule that cell phones can be seized at the time of arrest and blocked against data erasure, but that they cannot be searched until a warrant is obtained.