The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that police will now be required to obtain a search warrant before they can access the cell phone of an individual they arrest, barring extreme circumstances such as child abduction or a bomb threat. MSNBC reports that the decision was unanimous.
“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.”
In order to reach this decision, the justices looked at two cases involving cell phone searches. In one case, the San Diego Police were able to connect one man to a gang based on pictures stored on his cell phone. In the other, a picture on one man’s flip phone helped link him to a stash of crack cocaine. In future cases, the officers will need a warrant to conduct searches like these, regardless of whether or not the cell phone is likely to contain evidence tying the suspect to the crime.
“A cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house,” Roberts continued. “A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form—unless the phone is.”