Could High Court Cellphone Ruling Curtail Federal Post-9/11 Surveillance?


Privacy rights advocates hope the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling last month on cellphone privacy will have a broad impact on the clash between privacy and technology, perhaps leading to decisions striking down the government’s post-9/11 surveillance of Americans’ telephone records, says USA Today. The justices’ 9-0 ruling that police need a warrant to search a cellphone was arguably the most significant of the 2013-14 term. Unlike cases decided by 5-4 margins, Chief Justice John Roberts’ cellphone opinion was notable for “the emphatic, emphatic message from the court that digital is different,” says Jeffrey Fisher, the Stanford University law professor who successfully argued one of the two cellphone cases, Riley v. California.

Now the question is: How different? Different enough to topple a 35-year-old court precedent that denied privacy protection to telephone records shared with third parties? Different enough to call into question the use of drones, surveillance cameras and other forms of high-tech snooping? Different enough to jeopardize national security operations? Theodore Simon, incoming president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, foresees “a sea change in how one would look at future cases that in any way involve searches and seizures, and where there is the possibility of the revelation of significant personal data.”

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