The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases (regarding Brima Wurie and David Leon Riley) concerning police searches of individuals’ mobile phones, which raise Fourth Amendment and privacy questions:
The Supreme Court will take the next step in applying traditional notions of privacy to emerging advances in technology, announcing Friday it will consider whether police need a warrant to search the contents of a cellphone they seize when making an arrest.
Government officials contend cellphones are no different than other items that the court over the years has said police may search when they find them on the individuals they arrest.
But defendants and privacy groups say modern cellphones contain a wealth of information that traditionally has been off-limits. In one of the cases the court accepted, a federal appeals judge said they contain a vast array of information that traditionally has been kept in the home: “photographs, videos, written and audio messages (text, email and voicemail), contacts, calendar appointments, web search and browsing history, purchases and financial and medical records.”
In trying to apply Supreme Court precedents about the constitutional protection from unreasonable searches to modern technology, lower courts are deeply split. […]
The court accepted two cases with different technologies. One involves a Massachusetts man’s old-style flip phone, while the California defendant was carrying a Samsung Instinct M800 smartphone. […]
In general, warrants are required for searches, but the Supreme Court has said there are numerous exceptions, particularly after arrests, when police are protecting themselves and others by looking for weapons or securing evidence that might be destroyed.
In past cases, searches of wallets, pagers, address books and even cigarette packages have been deemed acceptable.