Court's Ruling on Cell Phones Is Milestone for Privacy

Pundits: Finally, justices prove they understand technology's role in modern life

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 25, 2014 4:54 PM CDT

(Newser) – They may not be an especially tech-savvy bunch, but today's ruling on cell phones shows that the Supreme Court justices are anything but Luddites, writes Dahlia Lithwick at Slate. The court ruled unanimously that police need a warrant under almost all circumstances to search somebody's cell phone, with John Roberts' opinion making clear that the justices understand the vast amount of information contained within. This is nothing like a routine search of somebody's pockets during an arrest. Lithwick highlights one part in which Roberts notes that installed apps alone "can form a revealing montage of the user's life." To Lithwick, "this reads a bit like a preview of the reasoning that will be someday deployed in a future case about National Security Agency surveillance."

The New York Times' editorial board is relieved, too. The "gratifyingly sweeping" decision wisely reaffirmed the constitutional protections that Americans have against unreasonable searches and seizures. Roberts' advice to police to "get a warrant" might be a setback for law enforcement, but not a big one, says the Times. Besides, as Roberts himself noted, "Privacy comes at a cost." Until today, the court "seemed to be over its head in cases dealing with privacy and technology," writes Garrett Epps at the Atlantic. But this decision "laid down a marker for privacy in the smartphone era."

A Supreme Court visitor takes pictures with her cell phone outside the Supreme Court Tuesday.
A Supreme Court visitor takes pictures with her cell phone outside the Supreme Court Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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