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Court Protects Privacy in Ruling on Warrantless Searches of Cellphones

Every now and then The Nine agree on something. Among the unanimous rulings the U.S. Supreme Court issued in the final stretch this year was Riley v. California, which held that law enforcement officials may not make a warrantless search of a person’s cellphone incident to an otherwise lawful arrest.
While some commentators lauded the ruling as a “sweeping” vindication of privacy rights in the digital age, others took a more blasé tone, calling the decision constitutionally sound and protective of individual liberties, but declining to lionize the justices as digital pioneers for grasping that smartphones are fundamentally different from, say, the contents of someone’s wallet or glove compartment.
This article examines the Supreme Court ruling and its broader privacy- and technology-related implications.