fourth amendment
law enforcement
Supreme Court
May 1, 2014

SCOTUS and Phones


Maggie: Technology is changing our lives so fast that the laws are having a hard time keeping up with it. That is exactly the topic that the Supreme Court is dealing with this week. And it involves something that you and I use every single day. Tom Hanson has the story.

Tom: From talking to texting to social media, it would be hard to imagine our lives without our cell phones. More than 90% of Americans have a cell phone and 58% have smartphones – all of them full of personal information. And now the Supreme Court is looking at whether or not police can automatically search through a cell phone when they make an arrest, just as they would a wallet, or whether they need a warrant first.

The justices heard arguments in two cases this week challenging the rules of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. That protection, in most cases, means police can only search your property if they get an order from a judge. The exception has been that police could search items that people have on them when they are arrested to secure evidence and to make sure that the officers are safe. Now the Supreme Court will determine if those exceptions include all of the data on a person’s phone; everything from photos to text messages to emails, all the way to GPS data and bank statements.

The Obama administration argues that information is fair game during an arrest. But the defense and privacy advocates argued that personal data should be protected from search under the Fourth Amendment. The justices seemed to struggle to find a balance.

As Justice Antonin Scalia put it, ‘Our rule has been that if you carry it on your person, you ought to know it is subject to seizure and examination’. Scalia then suggested there should be some limits to the searches.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said, ‘We’re living in a new world. Someone arrested for a minor crime has their whole existence exposed on this little device. It is clear applying rules written 200 years ago to the digital era won’t be the easiest task’.

Justice Elena Kagan said that ‘People carry their entire lives on cell phones. That’s the world we live in’.

Tom Hanson, Channel One News.

Maggie: A decision on the issue is expected in June.


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