Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones
Mr. Officer you need one of those warrants if you are going to look in there.
Today the United States decided the cases of Riley v. California. Like many individuals stopped by the police, Mr. Riley had his cell phone searched without a warrant. The police searched the phone without consent or a warrant and found texts tying Riley to gang activity.
My colleague and friend, Patrick Ford, of San Diego first brought this case to the attention of the California Supreme Court. The decision of the United States Supreme Court was surprising both because it was unanimous and because the conservative Chief Justice, John Roberts authored the opinion. The decision was very “bottom-line=.”
The Court held: “Our answer to the question of what the police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to arrest is accordingly simple–get a warrant.
The court recognized that the traditional exceptions for search incident for arrest were two fold: imminent destruction of evidence and safety. Both of these concerns could still be addressed by securing a warrant. A cell phone generally is not a weapon. And it can be turned off our placed in an aluminum bag so that it cannot be “wiped.”
The Court recognized that in some instances their bright-line rule might make law enforcement more difficult but in the words of Justice Roberts–”Privacy Comes at a Cost.” The court relied heavily upon the vast amount of private data that is stored on cell phones that are more like computers than a phone.
The bottom line regarding cell phones: Remember that they contain a great deal of data about your previous location as well as your contacts. This data cannot be deleted easily. It is easy for the police to get a warrant to inspect a cell phone. Never give consent to a police officer looking through your cell phone.
We live an a world where there is diminishing privacy. Just remember that everything that is in your cell phone and to which your cell phone connects in the cloud or on other pages such as Facebook or Twitter may be read by the police as part of an investigation.
The only place that your private information is totally safe for now is in your head, and it may not be long before the government finds a way to get in there as well.
Riley was a great win for the defense. The vestiges of the Fourth Amendment and privacy still exist in the United States, at least for now.