June 25, 2014 was historic for mobile phone users in the U.S. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case Riley vs. California, that police may not search the “contents” of a cell phone of an arrested suspect without a search warrant. The ruling points out that a cell phone isn’t like a cigarette pack or a piece of paper found in an arrestee’s pocket. Nor is it akin to a glove compartment within easy reach of the driver of a car who has been arrested. The syllabus (headnote) of the decision states:
“Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be carried on an arrestee’s person. Notably, modern cell phones have an immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos. This has several interrelated privacy consequences. First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, the phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. Third, data on the phone can date back for years. In addition, an element of pervasiveness characterizes cell phones but not physical records. A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.