WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, offering a sweeping endorsement of Americans’ right to digital privacy, unanimously declared Wednesday that police must obtain a warrant before searching a suspect’s cellphone.
The justices, in a ruling that has its roots in a case from South Boston, said the constitutional protections against undue search and seizure must keep pace with the technology that now allows thousands of details about citizens’ lives to be stuffed onto a ubiquitous device no bigger than a wallet.
“Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the main opinion for eight of the nine justices.
The decision applies to a pair of cases — one involving a drug dealer suspected of selling crack cocaine in South Boston, and the other a California gang member — that raised the question of whether police could pry the contents of a cellphone in the same way they could search a suspect’s pockets or handbag following an arrest.
Cellphones today are not just “another technological convenience,” Roberts wrote in the ruling, which displayed rare unanimity on a major issue. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life. The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”
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