Laura Millar
The United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling about the privacy of mobile phones on Wednesday, June 25th. The unanimous decision rules that police “generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested.”


The unanimous ruling stemmed from several previous search warrant and technology related rulings over the past few years. Before the ruling, the law was interpreted to mean that cellphones were subject to the same search limits as any materials found in a pocket.
A mobile phone cannot be compared to other pocket contents, like a pack of gum or wallet, according to Chief Justice John Roberts. Chief Roberts stated that "is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together." Smartphones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of photos, and have information going back years into the past. The information stored in a phone could potentially have more personal data than a person’s entire home.

The current wording in the ruling specifically protects only cell phones. However, the reasoning leaves the door open for tablets and other mobile computing devices to require a warrant before search. “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be carried on an arrestee’s person. Notably, modern cell phones have an immense storage capacity.” Tablets, laptops, and e-readers, have similar storage capacities and, with cloud computing, data can exist for longer than the lifespan of a single device.

Some departments predicted a warrant requirement would eventually come, and have instituted in-house warrant policies for cellphones. Others worry about the effect that this ruling will have on current cases. In the future, officers will need to secure a warrant to search the contents of any mobile phone. If the contents are suspected to either immediately endanger public safety or be in danger of being destroyed, police may search the phone and prepare to defend the search before the courts as justified by exigent circumstances.
This decision highlights how far technology has both been introduced and successfully adopted in such a short time. The age of the smartphone has brought with it the need for new legislation, and this ruling is the start of a discussion that will be revisited many times in the future. With phones and tablets also being integrated into Law Enforcement, Fire Safety, and EMS departments, these issues will continue to be spotlighted in the public eye. To learn more about mobile technology in emergency departments, visit www.publiceyes.com.

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