Obama Administration Seeks Warrantless Access to Cell Phones
Some days I don't even have the passion to rant against this devious administration anymore. Or the media, which keeps giving it pass after pass. Suffice it to say that if any Republican administration sought this particular authority, at the same time as it's evidently having journalists' docu-mules whisked off airplanes outside the US for 9-hour interrogations in basements and destroying computers at newspaper offices, well, it would be Armageddon on the evening news. Dan Rather would get himself back on the CBS Evening News just so he could set himself on fire in protest.
If the police arrest you, do they need a warrant to rifle through your cellphone? Courts have been split on the question. Last week the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to resolve the issue and rule that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless cellphone searches.
The particular case doesn't sound like a good test case. The phone in question is a 2007 vintage dumb phone, not an iPhone or Android model that is basically a computer and video camera with editing and broadcast capabilities in one's pocket. Additionally, the case involved the arrest of an active crack dealer whose phone started ringing while he was being arrested.
In 2007, the police arrested a Massachusetts man who appeared to be selling crack cocaine from his car. The cops seized his cellphone and noticed that it was receiving calls from “My House.” They opened the phone to determine the number for “My House.” That led them to the man’s home, where the police found drugs, cash and guns.
The possibility of stopping a crime in progress makes the officers' actions seem not only necessary but proper. They wouldn't have been doing their jobs if they hadn't followed up. But how often will the facts present such an obvious villain and what obviously appeared to be a crime in progress?
Nowadays, police are increasingly militarized and increasingly aggressive in how they treat ordinary citizens accused of no crime. Today's cell phones tend to have high-definition video cameras built in, and police have waged a little war against citizen's right to tape what law enforcement officers do in public, where there is no expectation of privacy for anyone. Ripping down the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure of smart phones empowers the state a great deal. If the Obama administration wins, a citizen could find themselves put under arrest and have pretty much their entire lives -- carried around on their phone -- subject to search just because an overly aggressive cop felt like intimidating them.