Supreme Court's Cell Phone Ruling Is a Major Victory for Privacy Rights

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In an age where smart phones are an extension of our being, and people are willing to pay thousands to protect the contents of their stolen mobiles, a police search of a cell phone could uncover many extremely personal details quite quickly. Today, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that police cannot search cell phones and smartphones without a warrant during arrest. 

The two original cases were about very different crimes and had different verdicts, however, they were both fundamentally about the actions police take when it came to gathering evidence from cellphones. In the California case, officers found incriminating photos and videos on a smartphone. This was used for a gang-related weapons charge. In Massachusetts, in the case of Brima Wurie, a search of an old school flip phone (known as a "burn phone" in some drug-related instances) led officers to find drugs and weapons in Wurie's home. 

The ruling was based on privacy rights, with the Justices agreeing that cellphones are in a special class when it comes to things that police might find on a suspect. While this is a win for personal privacy, the Court did acknowledge that this could be detrimental to the legal investigation process. 

"We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, "Privacy comes at a cost."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.