Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cellphones

In a sweeping decision in favor of digital privacy, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police almost always need a warrant to search a person’s cellphone, even in the case of someone placed under arrest.

In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled against the Obama administration.

The usual law is that police can search anything on a person when they make an arrest. Opponents argued that smartphones were different because they hold such vast and personal stores of information.

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. Elsewhere in the decision, he said that phones are so pervasive that “the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

But technological advances do not make such information less worthy of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, Roberts wrote.

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