Police can’t examine the contents of a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a first-of-its-kind case involving privacy and technology, reports the Columbus Dispatch. In a 4-3 ruling, the court said police aren’t entitled to scroll through call logs or look at other information in a cell phone without a warrant unless the data are necessary to protect them from imminent harm.
The majority said police in a Dayton suburb overstepped their authority in 2007 when they seized a cell phone from a drug-trafficking suspect and used his call log to verify contact with a police informant. The search of Antwaun Smith’s cell phone violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the court majority ruled. “Once the cell phone is in police custody, the state has satisfied its immediate interest in collecting and preserving evidence and can take preventive steps to ensure that the data found on the phone is neither lost nor erased,” Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote. “But because a person has a high expectation of privacy in a cell phone’s contents, police must then obtain a warrant before intruding into the phone’s contents.” A dissenting judge said call logs are no different from paper address books found on suspects, which can be searched without warrants.