Author’s note: As per usual for this time of year, the Supreme Court issued a slew of consequential rulings recently on a bevy of hot-button issues. This is the second in a three-part series exploring a few of them.
Imagine you’ve just been arrested, and you have your smartphone with you. Think about all the personal information contained on that device. Now, are you comfortable with the arresting officer poking around your cellphone without just cause while you remain handcuffed?
I wouldn’t be, and, thankfully, neither would any of the sitting justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 25, the high court voted 9-0 in favor of personal privacy in the case of Riley v. California.
In Chief Justice John Roberts’ blunt majority opinion, he issued clear instructions to the executive branch regarding this sort of digital intrusion.
“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought,” he concluded. “Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”
This laudable defense of confidentiality is in perfect harmony with both the letter and the spirit of the Fourth Amendment.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” it reads, “and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The counterargument is as predictable as it is intellectually bankrupt: I have nothing to conceal, the other side will say, and only someone doing wrong would care.