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SCOTUS to rule on police cellphone searches - Are they the same as looking through a suspect's pockets?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
4/29/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Case will determine when police can access your phone during an arrest.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today over whether police should have the right to search cellphones without a warrant. Two appeals have reached the high court with law enforcement experts and privacy advocates on two sides of the issue.

Should police be allowed to conduct a cellphone search without a warrant?

Should police be allowed to conduct a cellphone search without a warrant?

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
4/29/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: cell phone, smartphone, police, arrest, search, warrant, supreme court


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today about the legality of warrantless cell phone searches. Americans are protected from warrantless searches by the Fourth Amendment, however police have made a habit of searching cell phones for additional evidence during arrests.

Privacy advocates say that searching the cellphones goes too far, especially given the wealth of data available on a smartphone. A search of a smartphone can reveal more than whom people talk to, it can also reveal one's political and religious affiliation as well as what they read and do online. Police say this is important because it can provide additional clues and leads in criminal investigations.

Millions of people want this one common thing, but they can't find one. What is it?

Privacy advocates respond that police should not have access to this information without a warrant and that it is akin to entering a person's bedroom for a search.

It's true. Going through a person's cellphone isn't like simply going through their pockets.

The American Library Association, which catalogs digital information, said in a brief to the court, "What Americans are reading is ordinarily none of the government's business," and that because these devices can be used to read material on the web, it should require special permission for the police to access it.

However, police say that smartphones can be used to endanger officers, especially when a suspect is detained. Smartphones can detonate explosives, call or warn accomplices, or erase evidence.

A brief filed on behalf of 15 states with the court explained "Cellphones are not only capable of providing valuable evidence of a criminal offense, but are also often an instrumentality of a crime."

Previous court cases have yielded different results. In a 209 California case, police arrested a man who was later convicted with cellphone evidence of having a gang affiliation and transporting weapons. He was originally pulled over for having expired tags. Because his license was suspended, police searched his car and found more evidence of crime, and also went into his cellphone to learn he was affiliated with a gang.

California courts have upheld the search as legal.

Meanwhile, a case in Boston involved a man arrested for selling drugs. His phone rang in the police station and police traced the number to an apartment where they found more drugs and a gun. An appeals court tossed the conviction.

The two cases are Riley v. California and U.S. v. Wurie and the high court is expected to rule by late June.

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