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Supreme Court: Police Need Warrant To Search Phones

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday morning that police must obtain a warrant in order to search a suspect's cell phone.
Posted at 2:44 PM, Jun 25, 2014

In the digital age, technology and privacy have often butted heads. And the debate over whether police can search cell phones without a warrant is no exception. 

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 Wednesday police must obtain a warrant before searching through a person's cell phone. (Via Flickr / gordon mei / David)

​"​Up until now the court said when the police arrest someone, they can search anything that is on that person — empty out their pockets, rummage through purses or briefcases. The court said cell phones are different." (Via MSNBC)

USA Today reports the ruling was in response to two separate court cases in which the data from a cell phone led to the arrest of the two defendants, David Riley and Brima Wurie. 

Riley was arrested after police say they found photographic evidence of gang involvement on his cell phone, and Wurie was arrested after police reviewed his call log, ultimately leading to the discovery of drugs at Wurie's home.

According to MSNBC, those in favor of police obtaining a warrant for cell phone searchers believe the ruling upholds the Fourth Amendment allowing citizens the right to be "secure in their persons, houses, papers or effects." ​Those who say the warrant is unnecessary argue advanced technology is helping criminals carry out illegal activity. 

Justice John Roberts writes in the court's opinion: "Modern cell phones ... hold for many Americans the 'privacies of life.' Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant." (Via U.S. Supreme Court)

While the ruling is a huge win for privacy advocates, it has raised questions over what this means for those convicted. "What's going to happen to all of those people behind bars right now that were convicted based on information taken from their cell phones without a search warrant? That's a big question." (Via CNN)

Courtroom observers say the ruling could result in many appeals down the road.