News Release ~ 06/25/2014

The Fourth Amendment Lives Another Day: A Win for Digital Privacy in the U.S. Supreme Court

Washington, DC (June 25, 2014) – In a single unanimous ruling today, the U.S. Supreme Court held in both Riley v. California (13-132) and United States v. Wurie (13-212) that even in the context of an arrest, absent exigent circumstances, a warrant is required for police to search the contents of electronic devices like a cellphone or smartphone.

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Jerry J. Cox said: "NACDL has long argued that a person’s Fourth Amendment rights do not disappear upon arrest. Today, the Court made this clear and rejuvenated the Fourth Amendment in the digital age. The Court has long held 'a man's home is his castle.' Now the castle is in your pocket."

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the Court’s opinion, stating that both cases raise a common question: “whether the police may, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested.” Finding the answer to be “simple – get a warrant." The Court rightly points out, among other important observations, that: 

  • "…a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house: A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form – unless the phone is."

  •  "Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee's person. The term 'cell phone' is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone. They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers."

  • "Data on a cell phone can also reveal where a person has been….and can reconstruct someone’s specific movements down to the minute, not only around town but also within a particular building."

  • "Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life[.]'"

As a friend of the Court, NACDL strongly urged today’s outcome, arguing for such a warrant requirement. NACDL filed a joint amicus brief in Riley together with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. And in Wurie, NACDL filed a joint amicus brief with the National Association of Federal Defenders. More information about NACDL’s significant work in the Fourth Amendment/Privacy arena is available at http://www.nacdl.org/fourthamendment.

Contact Information

Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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