Should Cell Phone Searches Without A Warrant Be Legal?

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The police in California can now search your cell phone or handheld device without a warrant for evidence for a case, according to a ruling issued today by the state’s Supreme Court. The judges determined that police have the right to examine items they seize, which can range from text messages to app history to websites that you browsed. An appeal on the ruling could be sent up to the US Supreme Court according to California Deputy Attorney General Victoria Wilson, who The Daily Mail reported was the prosecutor on the case.

The 2007 California Case that lead to the ruling involved a suspected drug dealer who confessed to selling Ecstacy after a police officer discovered a text message that read “6 4 80,” meaning six pills for $80, who later appealed on the grounds that the evidence was found without a warrant. CNN said that while police can search any device, if the item is locked you are not obligated to give them your PIN or password. “The police can ask you to unlock the phone – which many people will do – but they almost certainly cannot compel you to unlock your phone without the involvement of a judge,” American Civil Liberties Union member Catherine Crump said to CNN. Similar cases have come up before both in Ohio in 2009 and in the US District court system in 2007, and both of their rulings stated that it was illegal to look for information on a cell phones without a warrant.

To me it searching a cell phone without a warrant seems similar to searching a car for evidence without going through the proper procedures, and search and seizure without a warrant is illegal. However, it is true that valuable evidence can be erased without a trace an electronic device with more ease than, let’s say, getting rid of physical evidence. Do you agree with the California judges in this matter? If it the case makes it to the US Supreme Court, do you think it will be overturned?

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