Supreme Court Discovers Smart Phones

June 25, 2014

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In an astounding decision published this morning, the Supreme Court of the United States placed limits on warrantless police searches of electronic data storage devices. The unanimous decision settled a case titled Riley v. California and was immediately applied to a second case titled U.S. v. Wurie.

Both cases raised the constitutional question of whether it is reasonable to search someone’s cell phone after he has been arrested. Prisoners are routinely searched after an arrest. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that arresting officers may open and search any containers or bags held by a prisoner in a post arrest search. And in the past, numerous courts have ruled that cell phones and personal computers are analogous to containers.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, 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.” What Riley and Wurie boiled down to was whether police were allowed to simply inventory and secure a prisoner’s cell phone or whether their badges entitled them to rummage through all those parts of a prisoner’s private, personal life he stored on his phone

Riley was arrested after a “routine traffic stop” in San Diego found two guns in the engine compartment of his car. After he was arrested police searched the data on his smart phone and found videos, photos and text messages that suggested he had been involved in a shooting. The data on the phone was later introduced as evidence in a criminal trial and Riley was convicted.

Wurie was arrested by Boston police on suspicion of selling drugs. Police monitored the calls on his flip phone and saw a number on his phone screen that was identified as “my house.” Following a hunch that Wurie might have more drugs at his house, police traced the home’s address, raided it and found drugs. That evidence was introduced at Wurie’s trial and he was convicted.

Liberal Obama And Conservative Roberts

The Obama Administration, which has stubbornly opposed any limits on police searches of electronic data storage devices since it came to power in 2009, argued in Wurie “Although cell phones can contain a great deal of personal information, so can many other items that officers have long had authority to search, and the search of a cell phone is no more intrusive than other actions that the police may take once a person has been lawfully arrested.” The administration’s position in Wurie mirrors its continuing argument that all information on a personal computer should be considered to be “in plain sight.”

The obvious constitutional error in the Obama legal stance is that it encourages police to examine and record anyone’s texts, emails, photos, videos, calendar entries, notes, prescriptions, bank statements, phone numbers and GPS tracking data by contriving an arrest for a “crime” like jaywalking or disorderly conduct. In today’s decision, Chief Justice John Roberts observed “a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house.”

Robert’s answered the administration’s argument that a cell phone search is “materially indistinguishable” from a pat down with, “That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon.”

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” Roberts wrote. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,’”

“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. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple – get a warrant.”


18 Responses to “Supreme Court Discovers Smart Phones”

  1. Tooj Says:

    “History repeats itself because the passions of man never change from century to century.” Just read that recently.

    I’ll keep it short: you can put shit in a pretty bag and it’s still a bag of shit. Some people never get past the bag.

  2. SS22 Says:

    Thanks just another day in this life we chose to live,I would.t trade it fer anything ,I keep my bags locked on the ol cement mixer myself tell the cops to get a search warrant .as far as searchn the car it wasn’t mine I was just a passenger and when I told my co-worker to tell the cops that he didn’t consent to the search they threatened to arrest me for obstruction of an officers duties so I jus reiterated my right to shut the fuck up .Not like I was hiding anything we were on our way to work but jus the principle of it all
    SS22 LVDV

  3. RVN69 Says:

    Sorry to hear you had to put up with that bullshit. I took a criminal law course at a community college years ago, and then the pigs could only search those areas that you could reach or jump to. Things must have really changed if now they can justify a search under the hood of a car that was moving and then stopped by the pigs. I’m used to them trying to search my saddlebags on traffic stops, one of them will have me come back to the pigmobile and another one will try to take a peek in my bags. So far they have stopped when I have asked them what the hell they are doing. I guess we can just cross the 4th amendment off the constitution as it is no longer valid.


    Support your local Red & Black

  4. Paladin Says:

    I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had at one time or another, a friend (male or female) that will continually complain about the relationship that they’re in. These people seek advice, but always manage to find a reason to stay in the relationship that continues to make them miserable. Why? Because they haven’t had enough.

    When a person has had enough, they’ve had enough. No one needs to tell them anything. They’re done, that’s it and there’s no going back. At some point, I see the foregoing happening to the citizenry of this Country. Barring an economic collapse, there will be no backlash until the Government’s overreach and oppression noticeably affects the self centered and self absorbed, which unfortunately make up the vast majority of this Country’s population. One also has to keep in mind that the great influx of aliens (legal or otherwise) entering this Country have left a Country where the economic and living conditions are far worse than ours. These folks won’t get pissed until their new standard of living deteriorates to the level of the one they left behind.

    For a multitude of reasons I believe this Country’s headed for a financial wreck that will make the crash of ’29 look like a minor TC. And unlike the train in the movie Unstoppable, I truly believe it’s out of control and unstoppable. When this Country’s train finally leaves the tracks, we will definitely be living in interesting times.

    Long May You Ride (to those that deserve to),


  5. Shyster Says:

    What is truly amazing is that this was a unanimous opinion. Chief Justice Roberts and that white devil Thomas siding with the rights of the citizenry?! WTF.


  6. Rusty Says:

    The extent that our privacy has eroded is beyond the comprehension of the average citizen.
    Most Americans will give their phone number to the cashier at Lowe’s or Home Depot without question. Why would the local lumber yard need your phone number?
    Do you have electricity or water at your residence? Guess what, anyone can make a phone call to either provider and get some helpful lady to reveal where you live. When I tried selling insurance I used power and water companies to find policy holders who had moved…they never failed me.
    If you travel with a cell phone, best take the battery out if you really want to hide.
    You (collective, not addressed at anyone) are on some form of electronic communication reading this….who’s name does the provider of your service have on file?

    Respect to the deserving

  7. Done Says:

    @jj makes some valid points and his statements deserve the respect of a responce. I’m not in his class or knowledge or experience but I’ll try.

    Perhaps the reason why people still cling to the US Constitution is because of it’s longevity. Worldwide, no other National Constitution has enjoyed such a relatively unchanged form and practice. As Americans we take for granted that the SCOTUS will continually review judicial decisions based on their merit or their lack there of in accordance with the Law of the Land. Allegedly at least, we are a Nation of Laws and not men. Some even hold on to the belief that the Constitution is sacred and inspired by Divine Providence. Our current POTUS was a Professor of Constitutional Law thus one might suppose he would be extra vigilant in line with it. Sadly, this and most of the recent POTUS have been far from it. The ACLU just issued a report of the Militarization of Police Departments and the relation to that and the Constitution as well, it got exactly no media coverage.

    In 2012 one of my best friends had his house blown up by a SWAT Team while he and his wife slept and several dozen red laser dots were centered on their bodies as they came out of what was left of that side of his house hands up wearing only their underwear. This dramatic show of force was a bit over the top considering he never carried a gun of any kind and after the place was ransacked all they came up with was two decorative knives mounted on their walls. He languished in the County Jail for a year awaiting his speedy trial. In his early 60’s he was handed 17 years in the FBOP for crimes the informant set him up for or he just plain did not have anything to do with but he took the plea so that his Wife would only get 5 years, she got 7. His Constitutional protections are difficult to find in all this. In case after case especially against Motorcycle Club Members our ever bolder government appears to be testing the limits of it’s Constitutional Authority. The AFT sells guns to Narco Terrosists, IRS targets political parties for harassment, the shit’s hit the fan all over the place and it shows no sign of getting any better. Everything jj has said is valid and the questions posed are unanswered mainly because people can’t be bothered to become activists anymore. The generation that gave birth to the SDS, Civil Rights Legislation, Anti-War protests are for the most part now content to sit back and let the beast bleed out, today’s generation could care less and the crooks in Washington are having a field day doing whatever the fuck they like. The Chinese and Russians seem to have a firmer grip on their bodies politic than we do and Australia has gone stark raving mad. So called developed Westernized nations build cement spikes under over passes to keep the homeless from sleeping there. jj, the shit has hit the fan and it looks like there’s a shortage or umbrellas. How this all ends up is anyone’s guess but I get the feeling we are only seeing the tip of this iceberg. Pogo once said something like, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us”. Patton once said “If surrounded by the Russians and the Germans he’d attack in all directions”. Unfortunately all the Pattons are dead, come to think of it, I haven’t seen Pogo for a while either. Hope this clears things up but in rereading it I fear I’ve only muddied the water. Peace baby!

  8. Road Whore Says:

    @ jj solari:

    I admire your way of thinking.

    Ride Free

  9. jj solari Says:

    i am always amazed that people – a lot of them here – calling themselves “freedom loving americans” insist on a warrant being presented as a justification for some asshole stranger to come into your house and tear the place apart and remove the occupants and their possessions. like, “sure, ok, you can fuck me hard up the ass as long as you have the proper paperwork.” what part of this do have a fucked-up attitude about that needs adjusting.

  10. Bill Says:

    As I think I recall, in Burgess’ case, it was an independent hard drive that was ‘found’ in the motor home’s upholstery. .

  11. BMW Says:

    The SC decision is a win for the honest folks, but it is meaningless when most cop-shops have a backroom technology (for “free” from Uncle Sugar) that includes code breakers and password generators that will break into a cell phone in less time than it takes to book someone!

    Additionally, most citizens will never take the time and trouble to lock their phones, much less encrypt them, until the Chinese build it in to their (export market) cell phones. In a network, it only takes a single mistake to open the network to security issues. So really the group that will take the time and trouble is a few people who understand the importance of liberty, a few bikers, a few liberals who actually read the ACLU lit3erature, and professional criminals…

    I AM surprised and gratified to see this development! Maybe the courts will start taking a closer look at that old US Constitution and apply it in their decisions…and maybe politicians (and USC “justices” are good politicians, although at best mediocre judges!) will start being honest…

  12. Done Says:

    Most often I ride my motorcycle. Unless absolutely necessary the pick up truck and the 77′ Corvette I restored stay in the garage. When I ride my motorcycle I carry a flip phone that is passowrd protected and remains powered off. Were I to get pulled over and were the Cops to search me and were they to come across the phone they’d need the pass code to get it to power up to the point where they could search it which would render them (I guess) who I’ve called or sent a text message to. Since I only carry the thing in case of break downs and I haven’t had one since I got the phone there are exactly zero calls &/or text messages on it and like I said, it’s a basic flip phone not an iPhone or Android so it has very little information on it except a few contact numbers of guys I know who have the means to tow my ass to their shops. If I’m riding cross country (FL-NY usually), I’d probably have to figure out who or where to call if I’m out of my local area but honestly, how hard could that be? My Family and friends know full well that I never have the thing turned on so calling me is a waste of time. And, at some out of the way gas station on some dusty road in the middle of nowhere you’re not going to see me powering the thing up to talk to anybody or tell anybody I’m okay (it’s for break downs period). The 85′ FLHT I ride most often does not have a radio and the 08′ FLHT I ride has one that I used once to see if it worked when I bought the bike. Part of my passion for full time riding is to escape the noise (people, radio, so called entertainment). Why anyone carries a so called smart phone / mini computer while they ride a motorcycle eludes me. I have no desire to take photographs of anybody or anything with the possible exception of a crash should I survive purely for insurance purposes. I carry a reasonable tool kit, mag light, extra quart of oil, rain gear, and maps, that’s about it. I’ve been pulled over more times than I can remember and been searched, locked up, the whole nine yards and in everyone of those situations the cell phone was the least of my worries. The contacts on my cell phone are numbers without names but that really doesn’t matter because I NEVER USE THE FUCKING THING! The RUB mentality has crept into our way of life to the extent that hard core Bikers now need to play with their smart phones and it’s agravating as Hell. Nobody with a brain should be carrying one of these things into a Club House, Rally, anywhere! I purposely avoid anyone who has one. My flip phone stays in the hard bags unless it needs to be recharged and it gets reharged in the garage. None of you will ever visit me at my house but if you ever did you’d be respectfully asked to leave your fucking cell phone in your saddle bags or you wouldn’t get past the front door. I could care less if you carry your gun into the house but the cell phone ain’t coming in, period. And, if we’ve got something to discuss that has to remain private we will be having that conversation in my back yard. Given all we know about the fucking NSA and Feds in general, why is anyone going anywhere near one of these self imposed listening devices? When we didn’t have cell phones and had to use pay phones or home phones we knew better than to say anything we didn’t want repeated in court and yet, now, when they SWAT TEAM raid our homes the first thing they carry out is the fucking computer, drop yours in the spetic tank if there’s anything on it that could fuck you over. People call me anti social because I’m very selective about who I hang with and talk to. I’m not anti social, I’m surrounded by idiots and I won’t willingly let them drag me down because they lack common sense. This is only a problem because we allow it to be. Stupid is as stupid does.

  13. Glenn S. Says:

    I am surprised. Actually fucking amazed. The supreme court has not been doing a very good job protecting individual rights lately, so I didn’t expect this.

    I also wonder of a smartphone is “materially different” than a laptop computer. Seems the only difference would be like the size of the seat on that hypothetical flight to the moon.

    I dismember from the book, Rebel. Did the pigs have a search warrant for Dave Burgess’s computer?

  14. Road Whore Says:

    @ jj solari: Amen, and amen!

    @ RVN69: Maybe they’ll include a free tire rotation next time. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

    @ Paladin: There’s a thought! Wonder if anyone can follow up on that?

    Ride Free

  15. SS22 Says:

    RVN69 Happened to me on Monday on way to work went from typical traffic stop to felony stop once I pulled my ID outa my wallet they tore vehicle apart searched everything including the engine compartment and I was just a passenger in the vehicle we were car pooling to work funny watching their faces wen you invoke tour right to shut the fuck up and proceed to do so even as hard as they try to get u to say something even as they tear your car yea even in so cal they tearing through the engine compartments
    Respects SS22

  16. Paladin Says:

    Since a Smart Phone is nothing more than a hand held computer, I wonder if this decision by the Supremes could have a positive impact on the Burgess case?

    Long May You Ride (to those that deserve to),


  17. RVN69 Says:

    OK,I’ll bite, exactly how do you during a “routine traffic stop”” discover 2 guns in the engine compartment?? What the fuck were they doing, a courtesy oil check?


    Support your local Red & Black

  18. jj solari Says:

    re: “Both cases raised the constitutional question of whether it is reasonable to search someone’s cell phone after he has been arrested.”………………i seem to be the only person in america who notices that no one but me seems to have a problem with the arrest itself. that every other american’s focus and problems seem to come from what happens after arrest. “do i get that phone call?” “after i am released from jail in two years to go to trial will a lawyer be provided for me?” “was i arrested only after being fairly and justly and prudently informed that i had the right not to say anything to anyone, that i have the right to go quietly?” “now that i am on trial after having been arrested and put in jail for two years do i still have the right to not incriminate myself on the witness stand?”
    “now that i am finally on trial after being in jail for ten years do i still have the unalienable right to not have to take the stand in my own defense?….that i have the right not to be a part of the proceedings before people who were not even present at the time decide my fate?” is this a great country or what. “well, hey, if you dont like it here, move.” well hey if you dont like me being here you move. asshole.

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