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Supreme Court Rules Cell Phones Can't Be Searched Without a Warrant 249

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the sanity-outbreak dept.
New submitter CarlThansk (3713681) writes The courts have long debated on if cell phones can be searched during an arrest without a warrant. Today, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest. "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, said the vast amount of data contained on modern cellphones must be protected (PDF) from routine inspection." Phones may still be searched under limited circumstances (imminent threats), but this looks like a clear win for privacy. Quoting the decision: "We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost."
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Supreme Court Rules Cell Phones Can't Be Searched Without a Warrant

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Who is this imposter pretending to be Clarence Thomas?

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:33PM (#47316709)
    This is reasonable, as police historically have not needed a warrant if there is an "imminent threat".

    However, any genuine "imminent threat" from a cell phone would be an extremely -- and I mean very extremely -- rare circumstance.

    (Note for citizens: this is not a good reason to not lock your phone. Police have been known to bend the rules. I would like to see that change, but today you should be careful.)
    • by Br00se (211727)

      Off the top of my head, I can only imagine a situation where a phone is strongly suspected to contain information relating to a kidnapping, bombing, etc where the information may lead to the rescue of a victim or victims. In other cases they can collect the phone while they wait for a warrant from a judge.

      • Off the top of my head, I can only imagine a situation where a phone is strongly suspected to contain information relating to a kidnapping, bombing, etc where the information may lead to the rescue of a victim or victims. In other cases they can collect the phone while they wait for a warrant from a judge.

        IANAL, but I believe what you are referring to is Exigent Circumstances [wikipedia.org] rather than Imminent Threat.

        • I think the Imminent Threat refers to the body searches that police do to determine that suspects have no weapons on their person when arrested.
          • I think the Imminent Threat refers to the body searches that police do to determine that suspects have no weapons on their person when arrested.

            My point exactly. GP said:

            ...I can only imagine a situation where a phone is strongly suspected to contain information relating to a kidnapping, bombing, etc where the information may lead to the rescue of a victim or victims....

            GP's example would be Exigent Circumstances and not Imminent Threat, IMHO.

      • Oh, I suppose the device could be a dead-man switch to "something interesting." Or for kicks and giggles, the actual "something interesting." Regardless, SCOTUS doesn't have much power to control the boots on the ground.
    • The term "imminent threat" like everything else as it relates to matters of law is as fluid and malleable as the entity wielding the power wants it to be.
      • The term "imminent threat" like everything else as it relates to matters of law is as fluid and malleable as the entity wielding the power wants it to be.

        Not really. We have the concept of stare decisis which largely prevents that from happening, except perhaps temporarily.

        • except perhaps temporarily.

          Which is precisely the point. When you're on the receiving end of extrajudicial treatment, I'm sure you'll find great comfort in "stare decisis".

          • Which is precisely the point. When you're on the receiving end of extrajudicial treatment, I'm sure you'll find great comfort in "stare decisis".

            Again I say, "Not Really".

            I mean, yes these things do happen. But in most cases you will probably eventually get relief. It is this fear of repercussion which usually prevents administrations from grossly abusing their power, even temporarily.

            Of course, that hasn't stopped Obama and his cronies. But personally, I could this as the worst administration in history.

            And I'm looking forward to America getting even.

      • by jxander (2605655)
        Check my reply below. SCOTUS defined imminent threat as something that can physically harm the officers, or facilitate escape (i.e. A razor blade or handcuff key tucked into your phone case)
        • Which actually makes me wonder if we're not far off seeing handcuffs that are locked and unlocked using a Bluetooth key...
    • Re:Imminent Threat (Score:5, Informative)

      by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:45PM (#47317997)

      The ruling actually spells it out "imminent threat" as a physical threat.

      Digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape. Law enforcement officers remain free to examine the physical aspects of a phone to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon—say, to determine whether there is a razor blade hidden between the phone and its case. Once an officer has secured a phone and eliminated any potential physical threats, however, data on the phone can endanger no one.

  • Moot point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903)

    The NSA, FBI and local cops are well beyond caring about what the courts or Congress thinks. If our legal system had any teeth in it, this might be different. But if all the courts are going to do is say, "We have ruled. Fail to comply and we will issue another ruling." the cops are just going to ROTFL.

    • They'll just go ahead and search your phone anyway, by whatever means they have. They won't be able to submit what they find as evidence . . . until they get a search warrant afterwards.

      They can still use anything they find as part of their investigations . . . to get other evidence by legal means, which they then can submit to a judge for a warrant.

      • Re:Moot point (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @01:10PM (#47317111) Homepage

        Or, they'll go with their new favorite toy ... illegally search your phone, and then go through the bullshit of parallel construction.

        And then it would be "we got an anonymous tip, and confirmed it when we checked his cell phone", which will be used to cover up "we illegally searched his phone, and then called in our own tip".

        And none of them will be charged with perjury or obstruction of justice.

        Until we start seeing police officers charged and jailed for this crap, they'll keep doing it.

        The police have become little better than those in banana republics where you have to assume they're all corrupt, because there's enough of them to make assuming the one you've got now is honest is a bad idea.

  • Double speak (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trachman (3499895) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:42PM (#47316809)
    I think that we are getting deeper into the woods and Supreme Court can actually keep two opposing concepts in mind at the time and be ok with it. Supreme court decision covers police and says that police cannot spy on cellphone owners. Can somebody explain, if, then NSA, FBI, CIA, DHS, TSA, DIA and thousands of other agencies can continue spying? What if policeman will call his colleague at DEA, FBI and will ask for data: happens all the times. What about the usual process, where DIA employee working with NSA data while spying on US people will give a tip to local police to check "that person". Also, does the ruling cover only cellphones? What about the rest of devices, such as desktops, tablets etc. Ruling says that other devices are covered. The outcome is that spying and collection will continue as it has continued. People who have privacy concerns will be pacified with this ruling. Finest example of doublespeak and doublethink.
    • by wiredog (43288)

      In those cases, the information (since it was gained as part of an intel and not LEO operation) would not be admissible.

  • Does this apply to the TSA who regularly searches laptops and cell phones?

    • I would think that it should since the ruling should since the Supreme Court said the police could search the device for physical threats but not the data on the device. So the TSA could make sure that your laptop wasn't somehow hiding a knife but couldn't look through your computer to see who you e-mailed recently. Of course, this is in theory. Applying it in practice is another matter. You can point out Supreme Court rulings until you are blue in the face and the TSA will force you to decide between 1

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      No. The TSA does not care about imminent threat.
    • Not really, they're looking for porn and other related peripherals, not imminent threats.
  • by Controlio (78666) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:52PM (#47316913)

    Now if we can just add language to somehow apply this to apps...

    A commercial entity being allowed to download all of the info out of my smart phone makes me no less comfortable than the government doing it. Especially when it's through a trojan horse such as Candy Crush or Angry Birds.

    This is the only reason I root my Android. If reasonable restrictions were in place, I wouldn't need to. But until the advertising giant and information harvester that writes the OS has a change of heart, I will continue to restrict said access through any means necessary.

  • Well unless... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Redmancometh (2676319) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:54PM (#47316927)

    This is great unless you're one of the 2/3 of people that live within 100 miles of the border in a "constitution exempt" zone.

    • by tekrat (242117)

      Isn't the entire USA a "Constitutional Exempt Zone"?
      It sure feels that way.

    • Nope. This applies to police searches after arrests. Anywhere in the United States. Period.

      Only customs agents have the ability to conduct warrantless searches and only at ports of entry. These ports of entry are at either airports or at the border.

      Customs can also establish stations for immigration control up to 100 miles from the border, and stop and question vehicle occupants at these locations. HOWEVER any searches at these internal spots must follow the normal constitutional rules. The only 4th amendme

  • by jodido (1052890)
    Any takers on a bet that Congress will pass a law making legal what the Supremes just ruled against?
    • It would take a Constitutional amendment, not just a law.

    • I'll take it, proviso that if SCOTUS strikes the law down as unconstitutional in less than 5 year... make that 10 ye... How long has the USA PATRIOT Act been around?

    • by Virtucon (127420)

      Unless the draft and amendment to the US Constitution and have the states ratify it. No I can't see them doing this. Of course in the future, the SCOTUS may review another case about some guy who was convicted on what they found on his phone without a warrant yada yada yada..

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      I will take that bet. The GOP is currently pushing privacy for american citizens, claiming Obama is evil. For that reason, Congress will not rule against a pro-american privacy ruling by the SCOTUS. Now, if terrorists were somehow involved, the GOP would say "Rights? Foreigners don't got no rights!"
  • by snsh (968808) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:56PM (#47316955)

    During his confirmation hearings, Ted Kennedy noted that Sam Alito "never saw a police search he didn't like."

    Alito wrote up his own opinion on this decision, not-quite agreeing with the rest of the bench, but still voting against this particular search. I guess there's a first for everything.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by operagost (62405)
      Because Ted Kennedy was a straight-shooting guy who would never denigrate anyone, even if they were from the opposing party.
  • You're God damned right it does!
    • Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

      - Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

  • One big enough to drive a semi through: If they are truly faced with with a possible remote wipe situation they can still use exigent circumstances to search the phone.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      And, of course, it's always possible for a remote wipe, so you'd better search them all just in case.

      Problem solved. Law, what law?

      • by thaylin (555395)
        Well it does say that the circumstances suggest it is going to happen, so it at least means that reasoning has to be explained, so ideally what you said should not happen.
    • You really oughta read the TFD (The F'ing Decision). This issue was specifically mentioned, and there is no loophole:

      "In any event, as to remote wiping, law enforcement is not without specific means to address the threat. Remote wiping can be fully prevented by disconnecting a phone from the network. There are at least two simple ways to do this: First, law enforcement officers can turn the phone off or remove its battery. Second, if they are concerned about encryption or other potential problems, they can

  • Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled that cell phones cannot be searched without a warrant. When asked for comment, police chief John Smith told this reporter "I don't give a fuck about your Supreme Court or your Constitution. If we want to search your fucking phone, you bet your ass we'll do it - and if you try to stop us, we'll shoot you. Kneel, peasants."
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:41PM (#47317965) Homepage Journal

    In various rulings, the net result is the cops (FBI, NSA, SEC, State, County, Local) may not search your phone without a specific individual warrant.

    But the NSA is permitted to back collect the information from anyone you ever played a game with on Facebook, including their own avatars they created to "live" overseas to get around this data collection restriction. They also have ones inside WoW and other games like WildFire.

    Then they claim the information is "externally collected" and use it anyway.

    The UK EU Australia govts do the same thing to their citizens using our data collecting (illegal under data treaties) on them.

    Any questions?

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