Our View: Court right on cellphone privacy

Thursday , June 26, 2014 - 2:07 PM

Editorial Board

It is not often that the right thing is done by a unanimous vote, so we’re pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court, via a 9-0 decision, has agreed that cellphones cannot be searched by police without a warrant.

This was a much-needed privacy adaptation to the digital age and it’s frankly kind of sad that this issue had to go to the Supreme Court. But three cheers for the justices for slapping down any arguments that cellphones could be tapped into without a warrant.

Chief Justice John Roberts correctly noted that the huge amount of data that is contained on a cellphone — or more appropriately called a smart phone — is why it should be protected from old-style law enforcement inspection rules. In the court’s decision, Roberts noted that a cellphone offers “a digital record of nearly every aspect of (individuals’) lives — from the mundane to the intimate.”

Consider what is on an individual’s average cellphone today. It contains hundreds of personal photos, perhaps thousands of personal text messages, the Internet, and all that a user surfs to, as well as that person’s social media record, and a collection of apps. Other data: personal videos and movies, a person’s letters and diaries, his or her books and online news choices. Frankly, the list of what’s on a phone is endless.

When law enforcement search rules were developed long ago, no one had any conception of what an individual’s phone would one day contain. At that time, a phone was something you dialed with your finger or a pencil.

The justices have acknowledged that this ruling will make law enforcement’s job more difficult. But that’s an acceptable compromise if we want to adhere to our nation’s values, which include the right to privacy. The court’s decision will not stop law enforcement from using cellphone information to catch criminals; it simply acknowledges that the proper, lawful procedures of obtaining a warrant must be followed.

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