Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 25, 2014

Privacy upheld

Court: No warrant, no cellphone search

Anyone who values privacy rights should cheer the Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday that cellphone searches should not be done by police unless a warrant has been obtained.

The decision — which was unanimous — is a linchpin ruling on privacy rights in the midst of today’s digital age.

Although acknowledging that their ruling would not make it easier for police investigations, the justices said the right to privacy outweighs that concern. “Privacy comes at a cost,” Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court.

The court chose not to extend earlier rulings that allow police to empty a suspect’s pockets and examine whatever they find to ensure officers’ safety and prevent the destruction of evidence.

Cellphone searches were defended by the Obama administration and the state of California. Their argument was that cellphones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else.

Arguing against warrantless cellphone searches were civil libertarians, librarians and news media groups, who argued that cellphones, especially smartphones, are increasingly powerful computers that can store troves of sensitive personal information.

“By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans,” American Civil Liberties Union legal director Steven Shapiro said.

Government intrusion  into the private lives of Americans has ramped up tremendously in the wake of 9-11. But the automatic search of someone’s cellphone by police crosses the privacy rights line. The court’s unanimous decision put an exclamation point on the need to protect privacy. Wednesday’s ruling puts the government and law enforcement agencies on notice that there is a limit to heed.

 

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