August 21, 2013

Cellphone searches

So much for the fourth amendment. Is it time to bring back rubber hoses?

If the police arrest you, do they need a warrant to rifle through your cellphone? Courts have been split on the question. Last week the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to resolve the issue and rule that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless cellphone searches. In 2007, the police arrested a Massachusetts man who appeared to be selling crack cocaine from his car. The cops seized his cellphone and noticed that it was receiving calls from “My House.” They opened the phone to determine the number for “My House.” That led them to the man’s home, where the police found drugs, cash and guns.

The defendant was convicted, but on appeal he argued that accessing the information on his cellphone without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the man’s argument, ruling that the police should have gotten a warrant before accessing any information on the man’s phone. The Obama Administration disagrees. In a petition filed earlier this month asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the government argues that the First Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the rulings of several other appeals courts, as well as with earlier Supreme Court cases. Those earlier cases have given the police broad discretion to search possessions on the person of an arrested suspect, including notebooks, calendars and pagers. The government contends that a cellphone is no different than any other object a suspect might be carrying.

But as the storage capacity of cellphones rises, that position could become harder to defend. Our smart phones increasingly contain everything about our digital lives: our e-mails, text messages, photographs, browser histories and more. It would be troubling if the police had the power to get all that information with no warrant merely by arresting a suspect.

Nowadays many of us use our cell phones just like our personal computers. Is the Obama administration arguing that it's OK to search your computer? And even if you don't use it like a computer, I bet you access your email account on it and if the courts agree with the White House then any thoughts of protections from the police are over. I bet Ray Kelly believes that in a Stop and Frisk situation, it's just dandy if a cop then searches through your cell phone fishing for information that can lock you up as well. It makes sense, doesn't it?

Digby writes: They really want to get to your private information:

This would conveniently make it so that the local, state and federal police can just seize someone's phone to get all that lovely personal data without having to make up some phony rationale about it being related to terrorism. (That whole thing's getting a little touchy, dontcha know?)

If the courts ultimately side with the Obama administration, anyone can be arrested on a trumped up charge, their cell phone seized, their email and other personal info accessed all without probable cause. And heck, if they just happen to find something ... well, that's your bad luck isn't it? If you don't have anything to hide ...

This has nothing to do with keeping the babies safe and everything to do with a government that has decided that the 4th Amendment is getting in its way and that an expectation of privacy is an anachronism that only a bunch of irrelevant cranks or criminals care about. I don't see how you can interpret their actions any other way.

And as Duncan always says: Shit Is F*&ked Up And Bullshit.

And the point is that getting access to your "cellphone" is no longer about having access to your contact list, phone logs, and a few voicemails you failed to delete, it's about having access to a big chunk of how you interact with the world in every way.

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