Can Police Search Your Cell Phone Without a Warrant? The Supreme Court is About to Decide

Two very important cases related to the 4th Amendment protection of cellphone data went before the Supreme Court yesterday. At issue here is whether or not police can search someone’s cellphone upon arrest. As usual, the Obama administration’s Justice Department is arguing against the citizenry, and in favor of the (police) state. Let’s not forget that the “Justice” Department also argued in favor of the police being able to place GPS tracking devices on people’s cars without a warrant back in 2011. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against it.

Naturally, the feds in the current case will discuss all of the criminals they were able to bring to justice as a result of these privacy violations, but they will certainly not point out America’s current epidemic of unlawful arrests, as well as arrests for petty non-violent crimes that happen each and every day. For instance, let’s not forget statistics that came out last fall from the FBI that showed police make an arrest every two seconds in the USA. I covered this in detail in my post: Land of the Free: American Police Make an Arrest Every 2 Seconds in 2012.

That translates to 12.2 million arrests in 2012, only 521,196 of which were for violent crimes. So should cops be able to search cellphones of millions of Americans being arrested for non-violent crimes such as drug possession? Or what about the street artist in NYC who was unlawfully arrested for putting on a puppet show? Or the guy who’s house was raided by police for a parody Twitter account. Allowing cops to search cellphones upon arrest in a trigger happy police state seems barbaric, immoral and downright stupid to me.

Furthermore, isn’t it interesting that the feds appear so obsessed with taking away your civil liberties to catch petty criminals, yet they couldn’t put a single banker behind bars for the far more egregious crime of destroying the U.S. economy and ruining millions of lives?

Here are some excerpts from The New York Times article to help you get up to speed on what’s at stake:

WASHINGTON — In a major test of how to interpret the Fourth Amendment in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider two cases about whether the police need warrants to search the cellphones of the people they arrest.

“The implications of these cases are huge,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, noting that about 12 million people are arrested every year, often for minor offenses, and that about 90 percent of Americans have cellphones.

The justices will have to decide how to apply an 18th-century phrase — the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures” — to devices that can contain 100 times more information than is in the Library of Congress’s 72,000-page collection of James Madison’s papers.

Others say there must be a different standard because of the sheer amount of data on and available through cellphones. In February, for instance, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals suppressed evidence found on the phone of a high school student who was arrested on charges of causing a disturbance on a school bus. “Searching a person’s cellphone,” the court said, “is like searching his home desk, computer, bank vault and medicine cabinet all at once.”

Officials in California told the justices that searches are required because cellphones can be used to set off bombs. Mr. Riley’s lawyers responded that “this scarcely resonates as an everyday concern.”

Oh yeah, destroy privacy rights for 320 million people because a phone could potentially trigger a bomb. You can’t get much more stupid and pathetic than that argument.

In any event, the Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday, and from what I can gather the justices appear somewhat split. The conservative justices seem to side with the feds, while the liberal justices appear on the side of privacy. Professor Orin Kerr of The George Washington University Law School wrote in The Washington Post that he expects a middle-ground rule, which would make searches legal in some cases and illegal in others.

On a related note, the Pennsylvania state supreme court just ruled against civil liberties with regard to warrantless car searches. Whereas in the past police would need a warrant in all cases unless there were “exigent circumstances,” now the supposed smell of pot or a dog signaling for a search is good enough. This is extremely concerning given the fact that often times such “probable cause” is a bullshit excuse to violate your rights and no drugs are ever found. The viral video from Tennessee on Independence Day last year is a case in point. Recall: Extremely Powerful Video: Happy 4th of July from a Police State Checkpoint.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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  1. The fundamental principle of liberty is that even the King is subject to the law. That was established by the Magna Carta nearly eight centuries ago.

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