Should Police Be able To Search Your Cell Phone?
by: W. Les Hartman
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the police need a warrant to search the contents of a cell phone seized from someone who is arrested. The ruling is likely to apply to searches of tablets and laptops.
Chief Justice Roberts, Jr. went on to discuss the central role that cell phones play in a majority of American’s lives. Roberts wrote that cell phones are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”
Even though this is new territory for Fourth Amendment law, Chief Justice Roberts explained that old principles applied. One of the driving forces behind the American Revolution was the revulsion against “general warrants” that allowed British soldiers to “rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make this information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.”
Cell Phone Search Law NJ
Police officers have long been allowed to search individuals without a warrant at the time of their arrest. The justification has been the need to protect police officers and to prevent the destruction of evidence. This is known as the “search incident to arrest” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant. Chief Justice Roberts concluded, however, that neither justification made any sense in the context of the search of the contents of a cell phone. While the police may examine the exterior of a cell phone to see if it contains a razor blade or some other characteristic that could be used as a weapon, once the officer has secured the cell phone, the data can be of little harm to anyone. Likewise the possibility of evidence being destroyed or hidden by “remote wiping” was speculative and capable of being addressed. The police could turn off the phone, remove its battery or secure it in aluminum foil to avoid any destruction of evidence.
Should the police have a “now or never” situation, the Chief Justice wrote that they may have a right to search under a separate exception to the “warrant requirement” concerning “exigent circumstances.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the need for law enforcement must be balanced against the right to privacy of data contained on one’s cell phone. He wrote that ninety percent of Americans have cell phones and that they contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives – from the mundane to the intimate.” He wrote, “according to one poll, nearly three-quarters of smartphone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12 percent admitting that they even use their phones in the shower.” Roberts explained that even the name “cell phone” was misleading. “They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers.”
Roberts admits that this decision will make law enforcement more difficult, since cell phones have become an important tool for criminals and could provide valuable information to officers attempting to combat crime. But Roberts explained, “Privacy comes at a cost.” He also explained that these same technologies have made it easier to obtain a warrant. With the use of iPads emails and the like, officers can often have a warrant in fifteen minutes.
Here is an article from TheSource.com
U.S. Supreme Court Will Decide if Police Need a Warrant