Justices May Be Poised To Limit How Police Can Search Smartphones


Warrantless smartphone searches worried Supreme Court justices yesterday, with several challenging law enforcement intrusions on privacy, McClatchy Newspapers report. In a high-tech case that goes well beyond its San Diego origins, liberal justices in particular seemed poised to limit what police may do with iPhones and similar devices taken during arrests. “Most people now do carry their lives on cellphones, and that will only grow every single year as, you know, young people take over the world,” Justice Elena Kagan noted.

Pointed questions from conservative justices and persistent probings by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote, hinted at a difficult split decision ahead. “Smartphones do present difficult problems,” acknowledged Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative who often sides with law enforcement. The California smartphone case, along with a different case involving a Massachusetts cellphone, brought justices face to face with devices that are banned from the courtroom itself. Most everywhere else, the phones are omnipresent and ever more powerful as far as range, capacity and utility. Justices repeatedly mentioned the power of the technology, hinting that it will color their decision. “With digital cameras people take endless photos and it spans their entire life,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted, adding that “a GPS can follow people in a way that prior following by police officers in cars didn’t permit.”

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