SCOTUS Gets It Right: Cops Need A Search Warrant for Your Cellphone

It’s axiomatic. Search incident to a lawful arrest. Cops have a field day seizing whatever’s on the defendant’s person and whatever’s nearby. And it makes eminent sense. Let’s seize evidence and fruits of the crime and especially secure the area to ensure the police officer’s safety. And cellphones fell prey to the vacuum cleaner swath of the search. Until now.

Cellphones are data troves. They’re repositories of pictures, notes, emails , thoughts, itineraries. The rough draft of your life. And Roberts spelled it out perfectly. Imagine that!

Lyle Denniston in SCOTUSblog said it best:

Treating modern cellphones as gaping windows into nearly all aspects of the user’s life and private conduct, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ordered police to get a search warrant before examining the contents of any such device they take from a person they have arrested.  Seeing an individual with a cellphone is such a common thing today, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote, “the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

And it even addressed the idea of cloud technology and data storage platforms. This really mucks up the works. Again, Denniston notes

[t]he ruling was such a sweeping embrace of digital privacy that it even reached remotely stored private information that can be reached by a hand-held device — as in the modern-day data storage “cloud.”  And it implied that the tracking data that a cellphone may contain about the places that an individual visited also is entitled to the same shield of privacy.

The Court’s ruling drew some suggestions by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to narrow its scope, but it did not accept those.  The result was the broadest constitutional ruling on privacy in the face of modern technology since the Court’s ruling two Terms ago limiting police use of satellite-linked GPS tracking of a suspect’s movements by car.

The tutorial commences infra. I love this stuff. Being a lawyer, law-trained but more importantly having slogged through MASH-unit Flawda highfalutin rootin’ tootin’ prosecutin’, I’ve a different perspective. A different take. Theory meets practical. And it’s legal commentary that I love inside and out. Because it’s real and it affects you. Moreover you’re charged with knowing it. Ignorance is not a defense. Unless your Linda Tripp, but that’s another story.

Rejoice! The Constitution’s alive and well. And the Supremes got if right.

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