WA Court: Text Messages Are Protected From Warrantless Searches


The Washington Supreme Court ruled yesterday that text messages are private and protected from warrantless searches by police, even when a sender can't be sure who reads a text after it is sent, the Seattle Times reports. The rulings are part of a broader, national trend upholding privacy rights for cellphones and the content stored on them. The case revolves around the arrest of two men after a third man was arrested for possession of heroin. Police seized a cellphone and without the owner’s consent read incoming messages from two other men. Posing as the cellphone owner, the detective arranged to meet the men to sell them drugs.

Justice Steven González said for a 5-4 majority that the state constitution — which provides broader privacy protections than the federal Fourth Amendment — “protects citizens from governmental intrusion into their private affairs without the authority of law.” Text messages, he wrote, “can encompass the same intimate subjects as phone calls, sealed letters, and other traditional forms of communication that have historically been protected under Washington law.” The U.S. Supreme Court is due to hear arguments in April on whether police are allowed under the U.S. Constitution to search a suspect's cellphone without a warrant, as they did in the Washington case.

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