The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday that police must have a warrant to search the cellphones of suspects they arrest. The ruling represents an important moment in upholding rights to privacy.
The decision, released by Chief Justice John Roberts, stated there is no “justification” for searching the contents of a suspect’s cellphone unless a warrant is obtained. Chief Justice Roberts went on to say that 90 percent of US residents have cellphones, and that they contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives – from the mundane to the intimate.”
Given the sophistication of the data modern cellphones contain, the ruling maintained that searching a cell phone is as intrusive as downloading the contents of a personal computer. Though lower courts have been split on whether or not cellphone privacy should be protected, this ruling upholds the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires “probable cause” to complete a search.
In the past, cellphone searches without warrants have aided criminal investigations in obtaining incriminating information, but Wednesday’s ruling will make such searches illegal. “Privacy comes at a cost,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”