Cell Phones and the Police / by kevin murray

On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that police officers must have a warrant in order to search a suspect's cell phone. Chief Justice Roberts wrote in regards to cell phones: “They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers.”  You would think that this Supreme Court decision would mean case closed with a correspondent great and grand victory for those that believe in the Fourth Amendment that protects one against unreasonable searches and seizures but when you have an object as common and as sophisticated as a smart-phone, which contains incredibly detailed information about your calls, conversations, contacts, location, and your browser history to mention just a few of its attributes, the police will absolutely never allow this proverbial treasure trove of information to just simply be ignored.  To the police, cell phones are the holy grail of data that contain the very basis of actionable information to arrest you and/or other people, or and at a minimum to better understand your life and position, to which their review of your cell phone data gives the police an almost God-like understanding of what you are about.


There are way too many people that believe that their lame password somehow protects their cell phone from prying eyes, while this may be so in a few certain circumstances, for the most part the typical cell phone security lock is only there to give you the illusion that your privacy is protected when in actuality it is not.  America is a high-technology country and for just about everything created with a pass-code, there is a device that can break that code and subsequently allow another person or department to peruse your cell phone contents completely and unobtrusively.  For instance, police are well aware that mobile forensic devices will accomplish a complete and thorough extraction of your cell phone data typically in a matter of minutes either out in the field, or back in the home office, to which, in theory, these extraordinary police actions might be overturned in court, or be found out by the public or media to their disapproval, or on the other hand be considered exigent exceptions to the warrant requirement, or simply never discovered by anyone outside of those that are in the know.


The bottom line is that certain police departments will never willingly desist from extracting actionable data that rests in plain sight when they believe that they are dealing with a perpetrator or someone of that ilk.  If police were given a choice between using enhanced interrogation techniques or the unlimited access to cell-phone data they would choose the cell-phone data.  If police were given a choice between a warranted search of a suspect's home and all of his possessions with the exception of his cell-phone, as compared to justa search of the specific cell-phone itself, they would select the cell-phone data. 


Cell phone data is the ultimate temptation for police departments, few will willingly resist, and virtually all will desire it, consequently one can say with a certainty, that Supreme Court decision or not, police departments will do what they will do and let the chips fall where they may.