Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cellphone Privacy

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Privacy of sensitive electronic data has been a hot-button issue since the revelation that the National Security Agency has been collecting droves of cell phone records. In a recent unanimous 9-0 decision, the highest court in the land issued a landmark ruling in favor of protection of data stored on cellular telephones.

In the case of Riley v. California, a combination of two separate cases, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police officers cannot search cellular telephones following an arrest without first obtaining a warrant. Defendant David Riley was carrying a smartphone at the time of his arrest, while Defendant Brima Wurie was carrying an older “flip” phone.

Both California and the federal government urged the Court to rule that cell phone searches should be legal as a search “incident to arrest.” However, the Court recognized that modern cell phones, particularly smartphones, are not only ubiquitous but also contain a wealth of sensitive personal information. They are more pocket computers that are able to make phone calls than merely telephones.

Writing for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that “the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude that they were an important feature of human anatomy.” More importantly, “the fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the (country’s) Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple – get a warrant.”

The Riley decision likely has further implications beyond cell phones. The court’s analysis touched on digital data stored on the remote server as well as the cloud. The Court recognizes that data stored on a cell phone or in the cloud is deserving of the same Fourth Amendment protection as “physical papers and effects.” Further, “metadata,” such as call logs, location data, and internet search histories can reveal a person’s “private interests and concerns” as well as where a person has been. Accordingly, the Riley decision may be an indicator that the Court disagrees with the rationale behind the NSA’s data collection practices.

At Romanow Law Group we want to ensure that our clients know their rights. This article is part of our continuing effort to draft articles about legal issues and topics that impact the lives of all Americans. No matter whether you are the victim of an automobile accident, defective product or drug, truck accident, motorcycle accident, medical malpractice, or injured by the negligence of another it is critical that you know your rights. If you or a member of your family have been injured because of the negligence or carelessness of another do not hesitate to contact Romanow Law Group today at (412) 642-9100.