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Late last month, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of privacy rights for arrestees in a case focused on cellphone searches. This highly-anticipated ruling insists that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant before searching the cellphones of individuals who have been arrested.

According to the New York Times, 12 million Americans are arrested on an annual basis. Some of these arrests are well-founded while others are not. Allowing law enforcement officials to root through the complex and deeply private search history, tracking, photographs, text messages, call history and other information contained within cellphones without a warrant would be a major threat to privacy. Thankfully, the nine justices of the Court agree that such behavior would be a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

In addition to violating privacy generally, searching through personal cellphones without a warrant could be considered self-incrimination under certain circumstances. For example, if an individual was arrested on suspicion of possessing child pornography and law enforcement officials searched this individual’s phone without a warrant, incriminating pictures could seal that individual’s fate before he or she even had a chance to speak with an attorney.

The Court handed down a major victory for privacy rights and the rights of the accused last month. Hopefully it will keep its rationale in mind in future cases concerning these very issues. The Court is not always consistent with its priorities, but this victory was clear and should be upheld as American jurisprudence progresses into the future.

Source: New York Times, “Major Ruling Shields Privacy of Cellphones,” Adam Liptak, June 25, 2014

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