There was a time when the law was very clear: in order for the police to gain access to your property, they needed a warrant. The 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
However, it’s long been legally permissible for the police to search individuals during an arrest without a search warrant. These days that has included cell phones and smart phones and that is at the heart of a case being heard by the Supreme Court today. Do the police have the right to search your smartphone without a warrant?
Privacy advocates of course say no. After all, your smartphone isn’t really a phone at all. It’s basically a small and pretty powerful computer that happens to also be able to make telephone calls. In order to search your computer or the files in your house the police would, indeed, need a warrant.
It’s an important case (see Gigaom’s great breakdown of the case here) with wide-reaching implications. While legal authorities say they only look at the phones of criminals after all, you have to be arrested to have this problem the vast majority of arrests do not involve anyone being charged with a crime. I’ve got to tell you, I’d feel pretty violated to have the police view every private text between my husband and I were I ever charged with a crime. It seems like a blatant violation of privacy to me.
This case is definitely one to watch. What do you think?