Are Warrantless Cell Phone Searches Legal?



Do police have the authority to rifle through your cell phone without a warrant if you’re arrested? If the Obama administration has its way, the answer is yes. Last week, the administration asked the Supreme Court to resolve the issue and rule that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless cellphone searches, according to the Washington Post.

The administration contends that cell phones are no different than notebooks, calendars and pagers, which in previous cases ruled by the First Circuit, gave police the broad discretion to search personal possessions of an arrested suspect. But in a more recent ruling the First Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the argument of a Massachusetts man who was convicted of drug charges after police searched his cell phone without a warrant. They ruled that the police should have gotten a warrant before accessing any information on the man’s phone.

The case of the Massachusetts man pertained to a flip phone, now primitive compared to today’s smart phones, which contain every aspect of our digital lives. So if the Supreme Court bases its ruling on that case “it would be making a decision based on facts that are atypical now and are getting more outdated every passing month,” said Orin Kerr.

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