Court: Police need warrants to search phones

ST. LOUIS – A unanimous Supreme Court decision will protect your privacy when it comes to police searching your cell phone.

Our founding fathers couldn't have envisioned this: a phone that behaves like a powerful computer. In its decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged the privacy concerns involving a device containing vast amounts of sensitive information.

The decision that pitted privacy vs. the police's ability to search cell phones without a warrant.

"The court actually made an amazing statement. They said that sometimes there will be crime because of the protection of privacy," said Saint Louis University Law professor Roger Goldman.

A police search of a cellphone could quickly uncover a variety of personal information, photos, videos, emails, text messages that could help police solve a crime. Police agencies had argued that following an arrest searching through the data on a cell phone was no different than asking someone to empty his pockets.

"The court rejected that completely and this was a real victory for privacy advocates," said Goldman.

"It doesn't interfere with the police's ability to keep us safe. This idea that we can either be safe or free is just a false dichotomy," said ACLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman.

The justices ruled on two cases from California and Massachusetts. In both cases police searched cellphones without a warrant. Mittman says the court's ruling recognized that the 21st century has brought a new era of digital communication.

"Our technology deserves protection. We have a right to be private, to have communications that are secure from police and government prying," said Mittman.

In a text message, St. Charles County District Attorney Tim Lohmar said Wednesday's decision is a reasonable balance between the need of law enforcement to investigate criminal activity and the privacy concerns of the public. There are exceptions where a warrantless phone search could take place, where there's reason to believe evidence is about to be destroyed, or a major security threat.


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