back to article Do cops need a warrant to search your phone? US Supreme Court will rule

The US Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a pair of cases to determine whether police need a warrant to search the mobile phones of people they have arrested. The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution forbids "unreasonable" search and seizure, but in 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that conducting a full search of an …


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  1. Gene Cash Silver badge

    broad implications

    If they find the search is unlawful, what would that mean for the dickheads at US customs and their ability to grab your laptop and any other electronics as they please? I hope they expand on that, or someone sues about it.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: broad implications

      Don't worry, I doubt they will find the practice unlawful. The real question will be if they can force you to give up your passcode once your phone is locked and encrypted and I believe that will be no.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: broad implications

      It won't mean anything. Border searches are not police searches. Customs have broader powers than regular police.

    3. Christoph

      Re: broad implications

      There's also the question of whether there are any limits at all on them planting spyware and keystroke loggers on the phone before they give it back.

    4. Shooter

      Re: broad implications

      IIRC, the government's position is that one is not actually *in* the USA at that point; therefore Constitutional protections do not apply.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: broad implications

        Same apparently applies if you are within 100miles of the coast of the Mexican/Canadian borders

        The constitution still counts in small section of Montana and Utah apparently

        1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

          here we go again, redux

          Yet Another Anonymous coward, please refer to Anonymous Coward’s post here and the two replies immediately following it.

      2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        here we go again

        Shooter, please provide a reference showing that this is the government’s position. In the meantime, you can read Chris_Maresca’s post here and the five replies which immediately follow it.

      3. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: broad implications

        The constitution applies to citizens; foreigners have less rights.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: broad implications

      Small distinction, when you cross an international border you waive most of your rights against unlawful search and seizure. Think of that the next time you are tempted to spit on a border or customs official.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: broad implications

      If they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed they could take possession of the phone and apply to the court for access and then look at the data.

      What I would object to is being stopped on a stop and search and the Police Officer taking my phone and looking through it without reasonable cause and just because he can. Of course I could refuse to tell him the password but then he may claim I am obstructing him in his duty and arrest me.

      While at a classic car rally in the midlands many children were taking advantage of a massive blow up slide. One parent took photos of his children coming down the slide. A few seconds later he was approached by a Police Officer and asked why he was taking pictures of children. They were of course his children. The Police officer then insisted he take possession of the camera and look through the pictures.

      The person in question said no. The Police Officer then puffed out his chest and demanded to look at the pictures and said that if he was not allowed he may have to take further action.

      He was quick to back down when my friend pulled out his Warrant Card identified himself and his rank and asked the Police Officer if he understood the limits of his powers. To which the Police Officer apologised said he was acting on a complaint from a member of the public that people were taking pictures of children.

      It was a family day out at a classic car rally complete with fairground rides.

  2. Turtle

    In Certain Cases.

    I'd expect the Supreme to rule that searching the phone is not legal without a court order (except possibly in certain types of cases). The items you have on your person at the time of arrest are of immediate interest as indicative of what you might have been doing at the time you were arrested, but your phone contains information about what you have been doing for possibly months and years before the arrest, and so searching the phone becomes something of a fishing expedition.

    In certain cases it might be useful if the arresting officers could confiscate the phone until a search warrant is obtained, so as to prevent possibly important data from being erased or deleted.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A trick would be to keep an email or text from your lawyer on the phone and laptop so it contains "priviledged communications". Then that would give the lawyers something to argue about...

  4. HughG

    They WILL rule in favor of the government. The police state is HERE. We live in a surveillance society right now. You have no rights.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I've called the Hyperbole police, please wait where you are, they'll pick you up shortly.

      Find someone who lived in Nazi Germany or under the Stazi or even the apartheid regime in South Africa and ask them about police states. If habeas corpus exists, you're not in a police state.

      1. NumptyScrub

        quote: "If habeas corpus exists, you're not in a police state."

        If habeas corpus exists for those arrested under suspicion of terrorism, in exactly the same form as it does for those arrested for non-terrorist offenses, then I'll completely agree.

        Unfortunately I think the PATRIOT Act and similar UK legislation gives far greater terms of incarceration without charge for "terrists" than for other defendants.

        Also any regime that uses torture at all on defendants is automatically a police state, at least IMO.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Hyperbole police

        "I've called the Hyperbole police, please wait where you are, they'll pick you up shortly."

        And now he'll just complain that he's living in a Hyperbole Police state.

  5. Charles Manning

    How this will end up

    Whether a document/evidence is stored printed in a briefcase or in bits in a laptop/phone they should really be treated the same.

    If the phone is locked, it should be treated the same as a briefcase being locked.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Authorities are welcome to come search my laptop.

    I do not employ disk encryption, and will happily provide them with an administrator password.

    Their ability to drive the OS is not my problem however; being a personal computer, I set the machine up for my use, not theirs.

    1. Shooter


      Do elaborate, please.

      1. MrDamage Silver badge

        Re: Interesting

        Here's how I'd do it if I were truly worried about it

        Set up a custom account for the "officials" to use. Dvorak keyboard layout, left handed mouse setup, low contrast colour scheme and minuscule fonts, and of course, no access rights to change anything.

  7. Awil Onmearse


    The very fact this issue issue is being tested in the Supreme Court of the land at all, shows just how much malicious overreach the state thuggery has given itself.

  8. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    I think there may be two issues on the go here but (unfortunately?) practice or experience in the media seems to merge them in to one?

    1 - Power to do something


    2 - an apparent arrogance in the use of that power

    One neat thing the US has above the UK is that it seems it is a legal matter requiring courts rather than a bunch of civil servants matter requiring a bunch of civil servants?

    Perhaps we want the state to extend powers but equally want the state to be sure that those powers are not used arrogantly, for ill or for self-interest?

    If so that would mean enshrining some protection and reparations for injured parties but at the back of my memory is plebgate (UK) and those discriminant beatings that seem to happen in US. Suggesting to moi that abusers if they get together will have a feast of abuse?

  9. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton


    thinking again … in UK we have had plebgate, NUM strike coverups, Hillsborough coverup, …

    and I admit my knee jerk reaction is too much power leads to too much abuse of those powers?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fingerprint Sensors protect your data

    if you lose your phone. When you are arrested and handcuffed your index finger cooperates with the law enforcement officer and unlocks your smartphone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fingerprint Sensors protect your data

      That's why I use my '11th appendage' to unlock my phone. They'll never think of trying that.

      Admittedly, it is a bit awkward sometimes.

  11. peter 45

    me no understand

    Say the police are not allowed to search the phone of someone who is arrested, they take him into custody and then apply for a warrant from a Judge presenting all of the evidence leading to the arrest. What exactly have they lost?

    I can only conclude they want the ability to arrest someone, and then look on the phone for reasons to arrest them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: me no understand

      They need a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed before they can make an arrest.

      This is a bit of a grey area especially if you are from a minority background or you are black.

      In which case here in the UK being Black gives them the presumption that you have committed a crime and in the US they can just shoot you first and ask questions later.

      1. TopOnePercent

        Re: me no understand

        @ AC 13:11

        Race card rejected.

        Your attempted use of the race card in a debate bearing nothing to do with race is why the card is so worn out, and frankly, no longer valid. Put down your Guardian, step away from the computer, and go look in the mirror. That reflection you see, that is why society is in the mess that it is.

  12. All names Taken

    If my house door is open and someone goes in and takes something then there is a chance that something was taken without my permission, even if it was a policeman/woman who took it.

    If my mobile device is open and someone takes information without my consent is that not a similar improper event?

  13. Arachnoid

    officers could confiscate the phone

    Sorry Turtle but this may not work as many of us keep our data in the cloud one would only need to remove the data using a.n.other device or even simply send a wipe signal to the device under question.

    On the other hand I dont expect an officer of the law to be able to access my data without a court order ,we are not after all the star turn in another NCIS program where hacking is the norm.

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