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Landmark Privacy Decision: Supreme Court Rules Warrant Required To Search Your Cellphone

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that our cellphones are constitutionally protected, and law enforcement must obtain a warrant. The question before the court was whether searching a cellphone retrieved from a suspect’s pocket was a search that was equivalent to looking through an address book—or was it more like searching through a suspect’s personal computer, which is the type of search that usually requires a warrant.

“Modern cellphones aren’t a technological convenience,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, the hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,’” he wrote.

Law enforcement argued that cellphones were an exception to the warrant requirement since police are allowed to search the contents of suspects’ pockets to make sure they don’t have weapons or destroy evidence.

This decision demonstrates the Court’s struggle to catch up with modern times. Privacy advocates view this ruling as a landmark decision, a sign that the court will protect constitutional privacy interests from modern technology.

While law enforcement officials are disappointed with this decision, they compare it to the Court’s ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, which established Miranda rights.  Following that ruling, officers feared no one would confess because they would have to read suspects their Miranda rights. But almost half a century after that landmark decision, confessions are still common.