How Cell Phone Search And Seizure Could Radically Affect Privacy

May 7, 2014

The United States Supreme Court heard two cases last week involving search and seizure of cell phone information. If determined constitutional, police could use evidence found in the phone during a trial without a warrant.
Credit Jonas Seaman / flickr

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases with outcomes that could have a big impact on the future of information privacy.

These cases question the Fourth Amendment exception, which lets police to search any items on a person at the time of arrest, including cell phones.

Yet many argue that cell phones should be treated differently. University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris explained why many say cell phones are more akin to a diary than a wallet and should require a warrant for search and seizure.

“If there is an arrest and if the police don’t need a warrant to search through the data on your cell phone and they find something that incriminates you and the arrest is discharged the following week, that evidence that they found will still be legitimate to use against you because it was found during a legitimate search if the Supreme Court doesn’t require a warrant.”

Harris said the fundamental arguments for privacy have historical roots in the Fourth Amendment, dating back to times when British soldiers had to obtain search warrants before searching colonial homes. But he says if the Supreme Court allows this kind of seizure, it would radically change the notion of privacy in the United States.