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Supreme Court Requires Warrant for Cell Phone Searches by Police

6/26/14

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund applauds today's unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, holding that the police may not conduct a warrantless search of digital information contained on a cell phone that is seized from an individual after their arrest. The court found that the warrantless searches at issue in both cases violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution's protection against unlawful search and seizure. 

Chief Justice John Roberts who authored the opinion identifies cell phones as "a pervasive and insistent part of daily life"  which implicates privacy interests in line with a person's home.  The Court explained that:

"Indeed, a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house: A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form-unless the phone is."

The decision also states that:

"Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life'. 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."

This decision is a welcomed affirmation of the too often eroded constitutional protections of the privacy interests of all Americans.