Hold the Phone: Supreme Court Rules Warrant Required for Cell Search

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In today’s digital age, it’s highly probable that there are more vital pieces of information and chunks of your life on your laptop or your smart phone than in your home. In a lot of ways, we live in our technology; we leave footsteps, relationships, interests, and timelines there. We’ve all heard someone say “my life is on that phone” or “my life is on that laptop.”

Wednesday saw the federal law catch up to this reality of modern life in a Supreme Court ruling which stated: “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.” While the case was specific to cell phone use, it is very likely that it applies to both laptops and tablets. The judgement was unanimous, with Justice Samuel Alito concurring in part and concurring in judgement, while others signed onto Justice John Roberts opinion.

The opinion listed previous background cases of note and relevance, pointing out that both phones discussed in the case — one a smart phone and one a flip phone — were relatively new technology in the grand scheme of things and “have been around for less than 15 years. Both phones are based on technology nearly inconceivable just a few decades ago,” it reads, noting that that is when other relevant cases were tried.  Now, as Roberts writes, “modern cell phones … [are] such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”