Now Appearing on the Docket- your cell phone…
My iPhone is my attic, my storage locker, and my deep dark basement. While it primarily holds music and games and contacts, it is- in essence- a portal to my digital image. And this image is the very image (and home) the framers of our constitution sought to protect. And while Jefferson, Madison and their pals could never have conceived of such a library of information – all in the palm of your hand – it is now up to the SCOTUS to bridge this generational (millennial) gap. After all – that’s really why they exist yes? To interpret the framework of our constitution and laws for a changing population and time.
And this was exactly what they did. On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled it (in a nutshell) illegal for police to search a ‘suspects’ cell phone without a warrant.
As a reference point – let me offer you the following (and completely fabricated, of course) example:
“I was pulled over by the police. An officer ordered me to get out of my car, and then he patted me all over. When he felt my mobile phone in my shirt pocket, he removed it and demanded that I give him the unlock code. At first I said no, but he said I had no “right to privacy” in my phone, and that it would be suspicious if I refused. So I gave him the code. Was he right that I had to give the police my unlock code?”
The short answer is no–examining the digital data on your mobile phone is a search for constitutional purposes and the police must first get a search warrant. There are exceptions to the warrant requirement–to protect officer safety or to prevent destruction of evidence–but the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that in the normal situation, these exceptions do not apply to a mobile phone. (Riley v. California (2014).) Even if you are arrested, and even if you are in your car–circumstances that give the police greater power to search without a warrant–your privacy interest in the data on your mobile phone requires that a search warrant be issued by a judge before the phone data can be examined.
This latest decision, by the Supreme Court – clearly identifying the rights above – was monumental. Historically their decisions have been quite liberally based in the areas of privacy and technology – when related to law enforcement. This opinion was a head-on decision towards fourth (and first and even fifth) amendment rights for the private citizen and their personal technology.
For more information….. SCOTUS Opinions