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Supreme Court: Cell Phone Stays Secure


Personal Freedom and Prosperity 110: The Rule of Law

The law prevails, not the proclamation or arbitrary decision of a ruler, a government bureaucr the enforcer (e.g., policeman) or judge.

Supreme Court: Cell Phone Stays Secure

In 2009, David Riley was arrested by the San Diego, California police for a traffic infraction. The police confiscated his cell phone, and while searching through his cell phone, they discovered photographs and evidence that linked him to a murder for which he was later convicted. In a unanimous decision (9 to 0), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Fourth Amendment protected Riley from the government (police) invading his right to privacy.

Two governments (California and our Federal system) claimed the Fourth Amendment did not protect Riley’s right to privacy. In essence, the California and Federal government intended to continue searching a person’s cell phone after a person had been arrested. Fearing the coercive power of government, American’s founders promulgated the Bill of Rights, including the Fourth Amendment, which says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This week, writing for the court, Chief Justice Roberts recognized government must be restrained today, just as government (British) had to be restrained in colonial America. The Chief Justice wrote:

Our cases have recognized that the Fourth Amendment was the founding generation’s response to the reviled “general warrants” and “writs of assistance” of the colonial era, which allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. Opposition to such searches was in fact one of the driving forces behind the Revolution itself. In 1761, the patriot James Otis delivered a speech in Boston denouncing the use of writs of assistance. A young John Adams was there, and he would later write that “[e]very man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.”

Now, two hundred plus years later, the Federal government and the State of California want to rummage through your cell phone and invade your privacy. Wonderfully, the Supreme Court of the United States said NO. The Fourth Amendment and the rule of law have prevailed.