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Supreme Court: Police Need Warrants to Search Cellphone Data Unanimous Supreme Court Says Privacy Interests Outweigh Police Convenience

WSJ's Jess Bravin reports:

The court in a unanimous ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts said both the quantity and quality of information contained in modern handheld devices is constitutionally protected.

Chief Justice Roberts rejected law enforcement arguments that cellphones fell under a longstanding exception to the warrant requirement allowing police to search the contents of suspects' pockets to make sure they don't carry weapons or destroy evidence.

"Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" he wrote.

"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," Chief Justice Roberts said.

The case highlighted the tensions between privacy and law-enforcement in the digital age, dealing with an increasingly common situation that arises when police arrest a person who is carrying a phone.

Lower courts have disagreed on whether devices found on a suspect deserve a higher level of privacy protection under the Fourth Amendment.

The Justice Department argued that the same standards should apply to mobile devices as they do to physical objects a suspect may be carrying, such as wallets or address books.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that advocate for privacy rights say they don't think police should be allowed to look at anything on a suspect's phone without a warrant.

"We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime," Justice Roberts said.

Timothy E. Zerillo has been included in every edition of New England Super Lawyers since 2010, for his Super Lawyers page, go to http://www.superlawyers.com/maine/lawyer/Timothy-E-Zerillo/ab011be9-fc96-44e9-ad28-3956da48c1b4.html

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