Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Should the police be able to search your phone without a warrant?

The Supreme Court is finally going to look at whether you have an expectation of privacy in your phone.  I think if you asked 100 people on the street what they thought, more than 90 would say that their phones should be off limits to the police without a warrant. But our government is taking the position that searching a phone should be permitted incident to arrest.  From Adam Liptak:

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a pair of cases about whether the police need a warrant to search the cellphones of people they arrest, presenting a major test of the meaning of the Fourth Amendment in the digital age.
The court has long allowed warrantless searches in connection with arrests, saying they are justified by the need to find weapons and to prevent the destruction of evidence. The question for the justices in the new cases is whether the potentially vast amounts of data held on smartphones warrant a different approach under the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches.
The lower courts are divided. In one of the cases the court agreed to hear, the federal appeals court in Boston in May threw out evidence gathered after the police there inspected the call log of a drug dealer’s rudimentary flip phone. “Today, many Americans store their most personal ‘papers’ and ‘effects’ in electronic format, on a cellphone, carried on the person,” Judge Norman H. Stahl wrote for a divided three-judge panel of the court.
“That information is, by and large, of a highly personal nature: photographs, videos, written and audio messages (text, email, and voice mail), contacts, calendar appointments, web search and browsing history, purchases, and financial and medical records,” he added.
When the full appeals court declined to rehear the case, Chief Judge Sandra L. Lynch said she hoped the justices would soon address the “very important and very complex” questions presented by it. “Only the Supreme Court can finally resolve these issues, and I hope it will,” she wrote.
In urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, United States v. Wurie, No. 13-212, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said courts have long endorsed inspection of anything carried by the people they arrest, including wallets, calendars, pocket diaries, address books and pagers.
In February, a state appeals court in California applied the principles established in those cases to allow a search of a smartphone containing much more information than the one seized in Boston. That case arose from the arrest of David L. Riley, who was pulled over for having an expired auto registration. The police found loaded guns in the car and, on inspecting Mr. Riley’s smartphone, entries they associated with a street gang.
A more comprehensive search of the phone led to information that linked Mr. Riley to a shooting. He was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years to life.
His lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, Riley v. California, No. 13-132, to determine how the Fourth Amendment applies to a device “that happens to include a phone” but is in essence a computer “capable of storing a virtually limitless amount of information.” They argued that a warrant should be required “before allowing the police to rummage through the digital contents of such a device.”
In agreeing Friday to hear that case, the justices said they would decide a narrower question than the one proposed by Mr. Riley’s lawyers, that of whether evidence admitted at Mr. Riley’s trial was obtained by a search that violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
In other news, two judges got in trouble last week, and it took quite a bit for it to become public.  Here's the story about Boyce F. Martin Jr. and Richard Cebull:
Lifetime appointments to the bench, the legitimate need to keep judges apart from the political hurly burly, and their own institutional insularity combine to make the conduct of the federal judiciary extremely opaque and difficult to hold to account. So it's worth noting that on Friday, the Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, which reviews cases of misconduct by federal judges, published two different decisions involving judicial misconduct where the essential issue before the panel was whether to make public the alleged misconduct or keep it cloaked behind the judicial trappings of secrecy and confidentiality.
In both cases, the committee opted in favor of openness. How it got there -- and the backstory on both cases -- is fascinating.


Anonymous said...

If you have nothing to hide, what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

How can there even be a debate that it is acceptable. Phones are no different than a laptop computer, file cabinet or diary. It is ridiculous that there is even a debate on this point, and it demonstrates how fucked we all are.

Anonymous said...

11:20, do you mean to say that a warrant is still required to search a laptop or file cabinet?

Anonymous said...

What is this "warrant" about which you speak?

- new lawyer

Anonymous said...

Serious question? or Sarcastic troll?

Anonymous said...

What if I have a passcode lock on my phone? can they force me to tell them my code? is that a 5th issue?

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