Court OKs Warrantless Cellphone Searches

Phones not that different from diaries, judges decide

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 2, 2012 4:33 AM CST

(Newser) – The police don't need a warrant to search a suspect's cellphone for its phone number in order to obtain a history of calls, a federal appeals court. The three-judge panel, ruling on the case of an Indiana man convicted of drug charges on the basis of call records, likened cellphones to diaries, CBS reports. "It's not even clear that we need a rule of law specific to cellphones or other computers," they wrote. "If police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy the owner's address, they should be entitled to turn on a cellphone to learn its number."

Searching a phone for its number in order to obtain its call history has only a "modest cost" in privacy invasion, they wrote. But as police would be barred from reading letters found between the pages of an address book, they would need a warrant to read texts found in the phone's memory, the judges decided. "Lurking behind this issue is the question of whether and when a laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or other type of computer—whether called a 'computer' or not—can be searched without a warrant," they noted.

A California prison officer holds one of thousands of cell phones confiscated from inmates.
A California prison officer holds one of thousands of cell phones confiscated from inmates.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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