Posted on July 6, 2014 at 4:23am by

Privacy Is Not Just An Illusion

For some time we have found ourselves in the Internet Age and, as a result have given up much of what we used to call “privacy”.  As a practical matter, privacy as we knew it in the last century has ceased to exist. The Internet has proven a mixed blessing for us.  Along with all the advantages and benefits that the Internet brought us, it also brought a far more public presence for all of us.  As perceptions of expected privacy levels decreased, so did the protections of the 4th Amendment regarding “unreasonable” searches.

Recently, however, the United States Supreme Court struck a blow for traditional privacy rights in the face of modern technology.  By so doing, the Supremes potentially restored a bit of the privacy that we have lost due to technology. On June 25, 2014 in Riley v. California, Justice Roberts, writing for a unanimous court explained that the protections of the 4th Amendment extended to cellular telephones.  The court held that as a general rule, the police may not search the content of a cell phone seized during an arrest without first obtaining a search warrant.  

As obtaining a warrant requires the police to go to a judge and convince the judge that they have good cause to obtain the warrant, the process offers the potential of providing some protection to the information we carry on our cell phones.  While the ultimate question will move to the discretion of jurists approached for warrants, the process does, at least, provide the opportunity for protection and preservation of the privacy of our information.

In writing for the court, Justice Roberts noted that most of us carry a considerable amount of personal and professional information on our cell phones.  Given the correctness of that observation,  any protection is better than none.

Presumably, the Riley decision will ultimately result in similar protection for all portable digital devices seized by the police incident to an arrest.  It would be difficult to differentiate between information stored on an iPad or similar device from that stored on a cellular phone.

Kudos to the Supremes for stepping up the Constitution’s recognition that some privacy rights should continue to exist in the Internet Age.

 



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