Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cellphone Privacy Upheld

In a milestone endorsement of digital privacy rights, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled this week that police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the court, said the massive amount of personal data stored on phones means they must be protected from routine police inspection. Roberts acknowledged that the decision would make law enforcement more difficult, as cellphones can yield valuable incriminating evidence. “Privacy comes at a cost,” he said.

The Supreme Court’s cellphone ruling marks a major change in the court’s attitude toward privacy, said Eric Posner in In earlier opinions, the court backed a police officer’s right to flip through a person’s wallet during an arrest, and “even read his diary” if the suspect has it on him. “If they can do all these things, shouldn’t they also be able to flip through his phone?”

Thankfully, the justices recognize that today’s cellphones aren’t just phones, said Noah Feldman in BloombergView .com. They’re minicomputers, with the average smartphone holding up to 64 gigabytes of highly personal data—including the names of a person’s contacts, their search history, emails, even naked selfies. Our justices might be aging technophobes, but even they understand one important aspect of modern privacy: “Your smartphone contains your whole life.”
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