The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in two cases that consider whether the police can conduct a warrantless search of an individual’s cell phone incident to arrest. Courts have held previously that the police can search an individual’s person and effects at the time of arrest, but cell phones often contain a substantial amount of personal data totally unrelated to the arrest or the relevant charges.
The cases are Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie. In Riley, the defendant is challenging a police officer’s search of his smartphone. In Wurie, DOJ is seeking review of an appellate decision requiring warrants to search a cell phone. These cases come on the heels of recent cases examining related issues, such as requiring a warrant to track a cell phone’s location, and to use GPS tracking devices.
Technology has progressed far beyond the point where a cell phone can be viewed as a simple communications device. A cell phone really is a pocket computer. Modern cell phones can be used to store incredible amounts of data, both internally and via remote services accessed through the Internet. This private data includes, but is not necessarily limited to, text messages, e-mails, call records, documents, photos, videos, and related items. This private material – which will almost always reveal intimate details concerning a person’s digital life – may have no relation of any kind or nature whatsoever to the arrest or the charges. Continue reading ›