Monday, June 30, 2014

Cellphones and Why the Supreme Court Affirmed There Still Is a Fourth Amendment

In a country where stop-and-frisk is a constitutional practice, the government searching metadata without a warrant, and the TSA that likes to violate Fourth Amendment rights at airports throughout the country, I had to wonder whether the Fourth Amendment was some antiquated law in American jurisprudence. Then the Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday in a 9-0 decision that police officers need a warrant before searching the cell phone of someone who has been stopped or arrested.

The ruling of Riley v. California affirmed that cellphones are worth constitutional protection. As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out in his opinion, cell phones hold "the privacies of life." Especially with the creation of smartphones, everything, whether we are talking about banking and health information, emails, photos, social apps, or website views, are all stored on cellular phones. Also, keep in mind that smartphones provide locational data with the installed GPS, which means that there is an ability to track your every move. Cellphones these days are more like miniature computers with massive storage capacity than they are a mode of communication to convert acoustic vibrations into transmitted sound. The importance of the ruling cannot be emphasized enough.

The Supreme Court could have simply cited Horton v. California and said that since cellphones are "in plain view," it is acceptable to search them without a warrant. Arrest is no longer a pretense to search something as important and informative as the cellphone. What the Supreme Court decided to do instead was apply a technologically literate view to the Digital Age and correctly apply the importance of privacy to cellphones (Kerr, 2013). The home is not the only place where massive amounts of private information can be stored, and I give kudos to the Supreme Court for realizing this important fact. Bravo! As Roberts closed in his opinion, "privacy comes at a price." That's true of any freedom, but I hope that the Supreme Court continues its trend of finding privacy worth protecting.

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