SCOTUS To Rule On Warrants For Cell Phone Searches

SCOTUS To Rule On Warrants For Cell Phone Searches

This is an important case. Cops have also been downloading data from phones of protesters who haven't even been arrested, and it's a real abuse of power. We can hope that SCOTUS has enough sense to rule against it, but with these clowns, you never really know:

WASHINGTON — In a major test of how to interpret the Fourth Amendment in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider two cases about whether the police need warrants to search the cellphones of the people they arrest.

“The implications of these cases are huge,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, noting that about 12 million people are arrested every year, often for minor offenses, and that about 90 percent of Americans have cellphones.

The justices will have to decide how to apply an 18th-century phrase — the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures” — to devices that can contain 100 times more information than is in the Library of Congress’s 72,000-page collection of James Madison’s papers.

The courts have long allowed warrantless searches in connection with arrests, saying they are justified by the need to protect police officers and to prevent the destruction of evidence. The Justice Department, in its Supreme Court briefs, said the old rule should apply to the new devices.

Others say there must be a different standard because of the sheer amount of data on and available through cellphones. In February, for instance, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals suppressed evidence found on the phone of a high school student who was arrested on charges of causing a disturbance on a school bus. “Searching a person’s cellphone,” the court said, “is like searching his home desk, computer, bank vault and medicine cabinet all at once.”

The justices are not always savvy about technology. At last week’s argument over whether an Internet streaming service is lawful, Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to think HBO is a broadcast rather than a cable channel.

But the justices can be sensitive to the implications of new technology for privacy rights, especially their own. Things did not go well for the Justice Department after one of its lawyers said at a 2011 argument that the F.B.I. was free to place GPS devices on the justices’ cars. The government lost the case, against a drug dealer it had tracked for a month, by a 9-to-0 vote.


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