Supreme Court to rule on warrantless smartphone searches

The Supreme Court will hear a pair of cases that will set precedents on the expectation of privacy in your mobile devices. American police forces have treated smartphones are equivalent to a notebook -- something that can be thumbed through during a search without a special warrant. But your smartphone potentially holds thousands of photos, access to a lifetime of email, intimate conversations with family, friends (and attorneys!), passwords for dozens of services, and more. Warrantless smartphone searches might give police access to all the most intimate parts of your life -- if that isn't the sort of thing that courts should be overseeing, then what is?

Incidentally, this is a good argument for encrypted mobile device storage and strong mobile passwords.

The first of the two cases is Riley v. California, initially a state-level case involving whether or not evidence gathered from an arrestee’s phone without a warrant could be used against him in trial.

Police arrested Riley in 2009 for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon after he shot at an occupied vehicle. He was later arrested and police searched the phone in his possession at the time, turning up evidence that identified him as a gang member out to kill members of a rival gang.

The phone also contained a photo of him with a car that had been spotted at the scene of the shooting. This, along with other evidence gathered from the phone was used against Riley in his trial, where he was convicted and sentence to 15 years behind bars. His lawyers contend that the warrantless search of his phone violated his Constitutional rights and this evidence should not have been used in trial.

Supreme Court To Decide If Cops Can Search Phones Without A Warrant [Chris Morran/Consumerist]

Notable Replies

  1. I wonder how well encryption on phones would work in keeping the police out of it. After all there's not much protection from lead pipe decryption and the police are right next to you holding the equivalent of a lead pipe. And of course in many jurisdictions (like the UK), with-holding a password is in itself a crime.

  2. In my opinion, there is NO justification for allowing them to search without a warrant or permission of the owner. If they are arresting you, they have secured the phone and there is no difficulty in securing a warrant, if there may be evidence of a crime on it. If they merely have a particularized suspicion it may well be reasonable for them to seize the phone (to prevent any evidence from being destroyed) in anticipation of obtaining a warrant.

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