In a colossal decision favoring digital privacy, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled 9-0 Wednesday that “police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested” due to the immense amount of private information now commonly contained on cell phones.
In a ruling over two separate cases in California and Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of privacy rights over the necessity of investigating crime. Defendants David Riley of California and Brima Wurie of Massachusetts sought to overturn their convictions due to the fact that their convictions had stemmed from their phones being searched without a warrant. The Supreme Court ruled that both searches were unconstitutional.
While police are still allowed to examine a phone to specifically ensure it is not a weapon, the ruling states “digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape.”
“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. 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.”
ACLU national legal director Steven R. Shapiro responded to the ruling: “By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans. We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government’s ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives.”