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U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments on cellphone searches

Many of the laws and amendments that protect the rights of American citizens have been in place for much longer than any of us have even been alive. In some cases, they were introduced more than 200 years ago in the Bill of Rights. With such firm roots in history, however, it can be difficult to implement some of these laws in a more sophisticated and modern society.

A strong example of the challenges posed by this dynamic can be seen in a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to reports, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that have challenged how and if the Fourth Amendment applies to the search and seizure of a cellphone. Their ruling could have a dramatic effect on New Yorkers who are arrested for a crime in the future, as just about everyone now carries a cellphone.

Having a cellphone these days does just mean that you are able to conveniently make a phone call. These devices now double as a computer, camera, video recorder and diary and they can keep track of nearly every written conversation we have with other people. All this information is available with the swipe of a finger. This is why they are at the center of a dispute over whether cellphones can be searched and seized during an arrest.

Lower courts are divided on the issue. Some have ruled that confiscating a cellphone does not qualify as unreasonable search and seizure, which is prohibited under the Fourth Amendment, because police have a right to search for weapons and secure evidence during an arrest to protect themselves and avoid the potential for destruction of evidence. In some cases, cellphones are considered to be the same as a wallet or pager, which are often searched during an arrest.

However, technology has advanced in such a way that these devices can provide a wealth of information quite easily. In no time, police could access medical and financial records and messages they would otherwise need a warrant to access. Searching these devices, groups argue, could result in a violation of privacy and a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the search and seizure practices related to cellphones later this year, but what do you think? Should police be required to get a warrant to search a cellphone?

Source: The Washington Post, "Supreme Court to decide case on police cellphone searches," Robert Barnes, Jan. 17, 2014

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