The Supreme Court Wednesday unanimously ruled that police cannot search a person’s smart phone, or similar device, without obtaining a search warrant first.
The ruling came on Wednesday following Riley vs. California where information gained from a smart phone provided evidence of drug activity.
Privacy laws have come under scrutiny since the evolution of the digital age. This ruling insists that smart phones now encompass every detail of one’s life, which is still protected by privacy laws and the fourth amendment. The fact that a search of one’s cellphone could now bring out bank records, mail, videos, photos and personal entries argues that smart phones are an entity of the individual’s privacy.
Opponents of the ruling argue that criminals often conduct most of their communications and business through their smart phones which may be needed as evidence. Requiring a search warrant would risk the individual deleting incriminating evidence before police have a chance to review it.
In an announcement of the Riley v. California ruling, released on its website, the Supreme Court stated, “We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cellphones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost.”
Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar of the LaGrange Police Department called the ruling “appropriate” and said it will have little or no impact on the policies of the department going further. Dekmar added that it has been the policy of the department to obtain search warrants of cellphones after they have been seized and are believed to have evidence. He said this ruling will only affect how they go about obtaining a search warrant.
The ruling will start immediately and Dekmar said the department is in the process of modifying its policy.
“It’s not that remarkable of a decision,” he said. “We’ve been obtaining warrants for computers and phones for a long time now and this just changes the point in which we obtain a warrant.”
District Attorney, Pete Skandalakis said the ruling wont likely impact too many pending cases in the courts, as they have only a few cases where evidence was acquired through a cellphone.
He added that it has been the courts’ policy to always ask for search warrant regarding cellphones.
Skandalakis said cellphones have proven to be useful tools of evidence, especially in drug or gang cases, though there is not a substantial number of cases relying solely on information obtained from cellphones.
Though the ruling requires officers get a search warrant before looking into someones’ cellphone, it does outline exigent circumstances, as with all search warrants. Skandalakis said these circumstances could be something such as an immediate danger to one’s life or a missing person’s case. In these situations, police may bypass the search warrant for an immediate need.
Police can also bypass the search warrant if consent to search is given by the individual Skandalakis said.