ACLU Applauds Court Decision Restricting Police Searches of Cell Phones

Posted: May, 20, 2013

The ACLU of Rhode Island issued the following statement today in response to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which covers Rhode Island, holding that police are generally required to obtain a warrant before searching the contents of an arrestee’s cell phone:
“The ACLU of Rhode Island applauds the First Circuit’s decision recognizing the importance of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures in the context of new technology. Cell phones today contain a vast array of private information. Personal texts, emails, photos, phone numbers, contact lists, working papers, and confidential sources of a news reporter may all be stored on one’s cell phone. Allowing police to search through its contents without a warrant simply because of an arrest constitutes an enormous invasion of privacy.
“Pending in the General Assembly is a bill that (H 5180S 0291), consistent with the First Circuit’s ruling, would generally restrict law enforcement officers from examining the information contained in an arrestee’s cell phone without a warrant. We are hopeful that this court ruling will spur the General Assembly to pass this important technological privacy protection. The legislation would codify best practices, comport state law with constitutional requirements, modernize Rhode Island privacy laws for the 21st century, and better protect the First Amendment rights of the public and of journalists. In the meantime, we are pleased that the First Circuit has made clear that the Fourth Amendment remains a vital force for protecting residents’ privacy against modern technological intrusions."