back to article US Supreme Court: Duh, obviously cops need a warrant to search mobes

In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that police need a warrant if they want to search the mobile phones of the folks they arrest. Chief Justice John Roberts, who penned the ruling, said the huge amount of data stored on phones means police cannot routinely inspect mobes as they would the contents …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. phil dude
    Thumb Up

    smattering of sanity...

    so, no no fly lists, searching mobiles, something about software patents, can't resell broadcasts (not sure about this)...

    any other reasonable decisions that have not made it?


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: smattering of sanity...

      Only a smattering and only in the US.

      Not that it matters, the NSA and GCHQ have all your details anyway.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      @phil dude -- Re: smattering of sanity...

      It's only a smattering. Just wait until the seemingly-reasonable Roberts gets his chance to indicate decree that corporations have religion, and can impose such religion, sharia-like, on its subjects employees.

      That ruling should come any time now...

      1. Someone Else Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: @phil dude -- smattering of sanity...

        To the downvoters: Thumbs-down me all you want, but my prediction did indeed come to pass, in spades.

        I hate it when a plan comes together...

  2. Gannon (J.) Dick

    Light sprinkle of sanity

    Yes, there was that.

    There is some suggestion that rotten Security Theater cake can not be iced into respectability too, and that is a good thing. The idea that intrusions are the normal and protection is the desirable technology to counter this "fact of modern life" is showing a few cracks in the coverage is a very good thing.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: Light sprinkle of sanity

      rotten cake = 'bolo podre' = tapioca pudding ??

      I have never heard of it with icing.

  3. Daniel B.

    Two seconds of sanity

    Looks like the Supreme Court has seen the light on this matter. Now, if only they could decide on warantless laptop seizures at the US points of entry, I might actually stop worrying about CBP being able to break my NDAs on client information by copying all my laptop's hard drive...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Two seconds of sanity

      Remember that this law doesn't apply at border crossings or in the special security zones within 100mi of a border or coast.

  4. frank ly

    In some ways ...

    ... it's comparable to entering your home and looking through your files and correspondence. If anyone had the pattern-swipe 'password' to my phone, they'd have access to my Gdrive, Dropbox and private ftp server.

    1. Omniaural

      Re: In some ways ...

      This was my first thought too.

      It's like going through a filing cabinet or someone's cabinet drawers, that just happens to be located on my person because technology allows it to be mobile.

      Any laws regarding data that is secured in any way should be subject to a warrant even if it is as simple as a pattern swipe, although I wouldn't consider a simple swipe-to-open screen to be secure in any way.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: In some ways ...

        Incorrect to the extent that searching a portable storage device (one's "effects", perhaps?) should require a warrant whether it has technical protection or not, just as would be true of a residence. If the arresting officers think a phone is worthy of search, all they need do is remove the battery or drop it into a Faraday bag (or simply wrap it tightly in aluminum foil) and seek out a pliant judge. There will of course, be exigent circumstances, but they should be rare exceptions to the rule.

  5. Dan Paul

    Supreme Court finds common sense again!

    Warrantless search is and has been plain wrong and I am overjoyed to know that the Supreme Court said so. I don't have anything to hide but you shouldn't even get to ask for my phone or computer without a warrant.

    The no fly lists in my mind are still viable as flying like driving is a privilige. Flying terrorists is NOT a good thing. Flying people who just have the same name as a known terrorist but are 4 years old or just Muslim is NOT the same thing and should be more easily challenged and changed.

    If you have been deeply associated/convicted of or with a terrorist crime, you should not be allowed to fly because you could EASILY risk the lives of all other passengers and no one wants you to contact, help or support OTHER terrorists, in other countries.

    The underwear bomber is a prime example. He should NEVER be allowed to fly again and no one like him (bomber) should; because the risk is too high. Radical Mullahs who ask their flock to kill the infidels are another category. They are egging people on to kill others which is criminal by itself.

    You may not be able to lock them up but they don't deserve to fly either. Just MHO

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Supreme Court finds common sense again!

      What about the people who were threatened that they would be put on the no-fly list unless they cooperated in a completely unrelated investigation?

      For many Americans no-fly means no-job unless you can persuade an employer to give you a couple of weeks to drive to each sales meeting on the other coast.

    2. Purple-Stater

      Re: Supreme Court finds common sense again!

      The problem with the No-Fly list is that there is no way to find out if you are on it, *WHY* you are on it, how anybody gets on it, or how to get off it if you believe you shouldn't be.

      As far as flying being a privilege or a right; I think all politicians should be denied that "privilege" for a minimum period of six months, THEN let them vote on which they think it is.

    3. Richard 26

      Re: Supreme Court finds common sense again!

      Flying is a privilege, in the same way driving is. However, due process is a right, and if the government can place arbitrary restrictions on you for no good reason, you aren't living in a free society.

      1. DropBear

        Re: Supreme Court finds common sense again!

        Driving, a privilege?!? Suuuuure, mate. Maybe someone should go tell mr. Bradbury too...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Supreme Court finds common sense again!

          Hey Dufus, It's State law in most places here. It is a "privilige" (meaning it can be revoked at will) to drive and I say it is a privilige to fly.

          Try getting drunk as a fratboy next time you fly anywhere and see whether they "revoke your privilige" to fly.

    4. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Supreme Court finds common sense again!

      I would say that if you are being arrested there is no reason the police should not seize your phone or other storage device, but they should be required to obtain a warrant before looking at the contents. Otherwise, I see no reason for the large number of negative votes.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if your phone was stolen?

    The bad guys could get access to your 'life'.

    Blackmail anyone? What about those naughty selfies of you and your bit on the side?

    Do you think the PI that your other half has hired will for one second follow the Supreme Court ruling?

    If you put your whole life on something as nickable as a phone then frankly, you deserve everything you get when it goes missing.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      Re: What if your phone was stolen?

      The PI can be sued or imprisoned if he hacked or gained unauthorized access to your phone/tablet/etc.

      And yes, your phone can be stolen, but that is demonstrably a crime. Heck, your "dear diary" can be stolen, but its still theft. The issue at hand was that police felt they were legally entitled to access your phone if the stopped you, and could presumably charge you with obstruction of justice if you didn't give them access.

  7. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    The Supremes tell cops to "Stop! In the name of love!"

    I'm definitely buying the tour t-shirt on my way out...

  8. Dan Paul

    Two terrorists just...

    downvoted me. Tell them they can't fly! (cuz they're dicks at the very least)

    1. Graham Marsden
      Big Brother

      Re: Two terrorists just...

      I downvoted you because I refuse to be treated as a terrorist suspect simply for wanting to visit your country, so I simply refuse to go there.

      1. Greggles

        Re: Two terrorists just...

        Exactly! I downvoted him too because I heard the department of homeland security and the NSA both ask Dan what his thoughts on how they should treat foreigners and he was the one to tell them to treat them all like criminals, it was all his idea. Shame on you Dan! Shame on you!

    2. Someone Else Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Two terrorists just...

      I downvoted you just because you're a dick to assume that anyone who might have the audacity to disagree with your ass-holiness is necessarily a terrorist. Bush much?

  9. Tony Haines

    "a brief physical search"

    "Judge Roberts said that the old rules couldn’t apply to modern mobiles, because they were a technology whose scope was unheard of when the laws were put in place."

    So in America, police are allowed to look in your pockets and wallet, and read your address book without a warrant. Briefly, apparently. Can they take your address book away and photocopy it, or do they have a certain time to look at it and identify the information they're interested in?

    If you were carrying a diary, would they be allowed to read it?

  10. MrNed

    Whereas in Blighty...

    ...our fascistic RIPA laws mean that if you're arrested for anything - anything at all - then the police have the automatic right to search your person, property, computers, everything. The justification is to secure evidence, but it's hard to see it as anything other than a fishing exercise.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Whereas in Blighty...

      Or even if you aren't arrested if the police have reason to believe you might have something naughty.

      The met have considerably more power to search you if they believe you have stolen govt property.

    2. rizb

      Re: Whereas in Blighty...

      You forgot taking permanent fingerprint and DNA samples "just in case". Even of primary school children.

    3. Tom Maddox Silver badge

      Re: Whereas in Blighty...

      This is clearly impossible. I have it on the good authority of The Register commentariat that the United States is the worst country in the world (or indeed the history of the world) and certainly the only place where the government ever does anything pernicious with regard to the rights of its citizens. The Thought Police will be around to administer corrective treatment in the portable Maximum Fun Chamber.

      1. earl grey

        Re: Whereas in Blighty...

        Does the Maximum Fun Chamber have Maximum Fun Bags?

    4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Whereas in Blighty...

      Absolutely it is a fishing exercise - but the bigger issue is that UK police can and have made arrests on the flimsiest of excuses for the sole purpose of gaining the authority to conduct an immediate full home & property search without needing to bother with a warrant.

  11. Kharkov
    Big Brother

    Technology needs to catch up to the law...

    If the State is going to treat its citizens as criminals (or potential criminals) then people will eventually get around to protecting themselves by...

    Installing a 'panic button' on their electronic devices (I'm thinking mostly smartphones). The moment you get nabbed, or have to pass through a checkpoint where your device can be taken, copied & read, you press the button & your phone deletes (after backing up to a secure cloud location) leaving the State with... nothing.

    Will this be used by criminals? Yes. Will it be used by vastly larger numbers of citizens who do not want the State to have access to their private data? Yes.

    Yes, the State will adapt to this, and the citizens, through technology, will adapt to that and so on...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glad it was unanimous

    We don't have to worry that it might be revisited anytime in the next few decades.

    1. Purple-Stater

      Re: Glad it was unanimous

      Not trying to be cynical (honest!) but I'm seriously surprised that Scalia didn't manage to find a way to cock this one up.

  13. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Don't carry IT around

    It's about time the ancient board of inquiry… errr, the Supreme Court did a little catching up and at the same time, the right thing.

    Beyond this one sane action of the US's highest court, it's not a good idea to be walking the streets with all of your important information on a device that can be easily lost or taken from you. Look at what you are storing on your mobe and ask yourself if it might incriminate you in some way. It doesn't matter if it's pictures of something that was completely innocent, what might it look like to a cop. Do you really need one-click access to your bank account? Do you really need to keep billing statements and sensitive emails in your pocket? Convenient to you is also convenient for The Man® or a thief.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Don't carry IT around

      I'm sorry, but I cannot bring myself to worry about how what I have on my phone will look to a cop. Nothing to hide, I can justify everything that's there if the need arises. So I refuse to live my life thinking about how I might be viewed like criminal. That doesn't feel like freedom to me.

      However, I do believe that caution must be exercised with all the geegaws that we lug around without thought. The caution I'm thinking of is reminding oneself what you'd lose if that phone or USB were to drop into the gutter, under a truck tire or somesuch. In other words, what if your phone breaks or is lost ? What have you lost ?

      These days, you lose a lot more than a phone. If you had bank access on it, you'd better pray that it got dunked in some liquid and is unusable because if it falls into the wrong hands . . .

      That is my guiding light concerning how I treat these technological terrors. Not what a cop might think, but what I am actually losing if that thingy goes missing.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Don't carry IT around

        Ah - the old "If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" used to justify any and all invasion of privacy. A phrase first used, I believe, by the German SS.

        1. earl grey
          Big Brother

          Re: Don't carry IT around

          OMG, you just ended this comment session for everyone. The only thing you forgot was Hitler.

  14. Lionel Baden

    cant this be solved

    By locking your phone ?

    1. ShadowedOne

      Re: cant this be solved

      In much the same way that a physical (residence) search can be stopped by locking your front door, or an arrest prevented by running, etc..

    2. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: cant this be solved

      In the UK you would be committing another offence by refusing to reveal the password.

      1. Lionel Baden

        Re: cant this be solved

        @john H Woods

        I believe they would need a warrant for that. Hence resolving the issue.

    3. Old Handle

      Re: cant this be solved

      That's not a silly question, actually. Apparently it matters in Ontario. But as far as I've heard the US ruling doesn't require this. Obviously I prefer the rule that they always need a warrant, but it does make some sense that a supposed "incidental" search would have to have to stop upon encountering a lock.

    4. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: cant this be solved

      There exists a phone copying device that doesn't need for a phone to be unlocked. Maybe somebody can remember the post and link back. This kit was/is being sold to law enforcement and it contains an assortment of cables to connect to nearly every phone. A couple of keystrokes and they have a dump of everything on your phone. While you think you have nothing to hide, it might be discovered from your GPS track that you were in the area of a crime at just the right time. While that had nothing to do with you, keep thinking happy thoughts about that while you are sat on the curb in handcuffs for a hour while the doughnut patrol "does their best" to figure out that you aren't involved.

  15. JaitcH

    One Gaping Hole Still Remains - Border Patrol and ICE

    There remain wide swathes of country parallel to the US borders where warrantless searches can be done by Border Patrol and the ICE gang that stretch decades of miles inland from the borders. Some of them include sizeable cities such as Rochester and Buffalo in New York State or Detroit in Michigan just along the Canadian border.

    Of course, these characters can easily search for things without restriction for their friends in the Cops.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One Gaping Hole Still Remains - Border Patrol and ICE

      who are completely outside the influence of law along with Secret Service, TSA, The Executive branch of Government and the IRS.

  16. Frank N. Stein

    Way to go, Supreme Court. That's one in the win column for the "little guy".

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020