The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police cannot go snooping through people’s cell phones without a warrant, in a unanimous decision that amounts to a major statement in favor of privacy rights. Police agencies had argued that searching through the data on cell phones was no different than asking someone to turn out his pockets, but the justices rejected that, saying a cell phone is more fundamental. The ruling amounts to a 21st century update to legal understanding of privacy rights.
The Washington Times reports that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the unanimous court: "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 Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple— get a warrant."
The chief justice cited court precedent that found a difference between asking someone to turn out his pockets versus “ransacking his house for everything which may incriminate him” — and the court found that a cellphone calls into that second category.