Supreme Court Rules Police Must Have Warrant to Search Cell Phones

June 25, 2014

New York – Police may not search the digital contents of cell phones seized from individuals who have been arrested unless they obtain a warrant, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in two landmark digital privacy cases, Riley v. California and United States v Wurie.

Cell phones, the Court found, record vast amounts of information about our daily lives. While police traditionally have been allowed to search physical objects they find on an arrestee without a warrant, this does not entitle them to also rummage through the entire contents of an individual’s cell phone.

“Today’s decision is a resounding victory for the digital privacy of Americans,” said Michael Price, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “The police shouldn’t be allowed to search the contents of someone’s cell phone simply because they were pulled over for a traffic violation. A warrant requirement to search an arrestee’s cell phone will preserve the delicate balance between privacy and security in law enforcement investigations.”

“The Court found that the old rules no longer account for the volumes of personal information stored on modern cell phones,” said Amos Toh, Katz Fellow at the Brennan Center. “Our interpretations of the Fourth Amendment must evolve to keep pace with advances in technology. Today’s ruling will go a long way in preventing our personal data from being unduly searched, stored, and abused without proper judicial oversight.”

Read the Supreme Court’s decision here.

Read the Brennan Center’s amicus brief filed in Riley v. California here.

Read more about the privacy concerns surrounding Americans’ collected data here.

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Seth Hoy at seth.hoy@nyu.edu or (646) 292-8369.