The Fourth Amendment is still alive. In a unanimous decision (9 – 0 for those of you keeping score), the United States Supreme Court held that law enforcement may not search the cell phones of criminal suspects upon arrest without a warrant. The justices said smart phones and other electronic devices were not in the same category as wallets, briefcases, and vehicles -- all currently subject to limited initial examination by law enforcement.
The issue arose following the arrests and subsequent conviction of defendants in Massachusetts and California. In these cases, United States v. Wurie, No. 13-212 and Riley v. California, No. 13-132, the defendants were convicted, in part, after phone numbers, text messages, photos and addresses obtained from personal electronic devices linked them to drug and gang activity. Those cases were appealed to the high court, giving it an opportunity to re-enter the public debate over the limits of privacy rights, with a focus on the ubiquitous cellphone and its vast storage of information and video.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court stated, that “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."