My second-grade daughter is doing a report on the invention of the telephone. Of course, she was shocked to find out that the original telephone had nothing to do with texting, emails or games. She was shocked that at one time, we couldn’t manage our entire lives from this one small device.
Frankly, she struggled to believe that phones weren’t always small enough to fit in our pockets.
However, despite the small size of our phones, it’s hard for us to realize how vulnerable we are because our entire lives are stored in them.
Gone are the days where all of our most personal information is stored away in paper form in a safe. Now, we track everything from our health issues to our bank codes to our social security numbers and contacts on our phones. Really, many of us today can’t function without a phone.
How does that make us vulnerable in the eyes of the law? A case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week may shed some light on that.
Hearing arguments on privacy in the digital age, the nation’s highest court will be hearing cases regarding criminal suspects in Massachusetts and California. The official rulings are expected in June.
The basis of the case comes down to – should law enforcement have such easy warrantless access to possibly incriminating, even embarrassing, digital evidence, or should exceptions be created?
In the 2009 California case, a college student’s arrest for having an expired vehicle registration led to the discovery of guns and even more on his smartphone.
In the 2007, Massachusetts case, Brima Wurie was arrested for selling packets of crack cocaine. Subsequently, call logs were used from Wurie’s phone to trace real home addresses, and search warrants were obtained to search more homes.
While some may say that this wouldn’t happen to them, and these people were suspicious and broke the law, they should remember these two cases aren’t so cut and dry.
What if, by some chance, you are caught with an expired vehicle registration? What if police searched your phone and discovered something “suspicious” – do they have the right to search your phone?
Warrantless cell phone data searches are an issue that needs to be addressed. Our phones hold so much of our lives, they are no different than a private residence, or your vehicle. A warrant should be required before a search of one of our most private possessions can commence.
The Fourth Amendment protects us against “unreasonable searches and seizures”.
Some police have argued that a search of a cell phone is no different than searching one’s wallet or car during a justified traffic stop.
According to a CNN report on April 27, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said, “A custodial arrest of a suspect based on probable cause is a reasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment; that intrusion being lawful, a search incident to arrest requires no additional justification.”
According to a recent survey, as many as 85 percent of American own cell phones today, which include sophisticated smartphones. That’s plenty of information for any officer to search through if they think they have some right to in a random traffic stop.