A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld the privacy rights of mobile phones belonging to people who are arrested.
“This is a bold opinion,” Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, told The New York Times. “It is the first computer-search case, and it says we are in a new digital age. You can’t apply the old rules anymore.”
In the written decision, Chief Justice John Roberts noted in Riley v. California that mobile phones commonly contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives — from the mundane to the intimate.”
Roberts also acknowledged the multipurpose nature of mobile phones.
“They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers,” he wrote.
The court also prohibited the deletion of data contained within mobile phones, or their confiscation.
“Digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape. Officers may examine the phone’s physical aspects to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon, but the data on the phone can endanger no one,” Roberts wrote.
The specific language is notable, as police departments have claimed in numerous seizure cases that they had “feared” for their lives from the phone as a potential weapon. The claim is made constantly on photo-rights blog Photography Is Not A Crime.
The court also carved out a right to privacy distinct inherent in digital devices from physical searches at the time of arrest.
“A conclusion that inspecting the contents of an arrestee’s pockets works no substantial additional intrusion on privacy beyond the arrest itself may make sense as applied to physical items, but more substantial privacy interests are at stake when digital data is involved,” the decision stated.
(via Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones | Photography is Not a Crime)