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The Supreme Court announced today that they will review two appeals of criminal cases involving persons convicted of crimes based on evidence found on their cell phone after they had been arrested.

As of now each state has different (or no) rules about the cell phone search of arrested individual. For example I live in Massachusetts where police officers or detectives must obtain a search warrant to view the contents of an individuals phone. If you want to view the map of where you live or other states, you can check out this map from Forbes

Cell Phone Supreme CourtIn Florida this year the Florida State Supreme court ruled that police needed search warrants to explore the content of the phones.  Appeals courts in Florida had ruled that warrants were not needed based on other US Supreme Court rulings, saying “The (U.S.) Supreme Court has clearly and repeatedly found that anything found on an arrestee or within an arrestees immediate control may be searched and inspected upon arrest,” the appeals court said. There’s no reason to except cell phones, the 1st DCA said.

But Justice Lewis, writing for Florida’s Supreme Court’s majority, said a cigarette pack containing drugs that was the focus of the Robinson case was very different from a modern smart phone.

“That case clearly did not involve the search of a modern electronic device and the extensive information and data held in a cell phone,” Lewis wrote. “When Robinson was decided, hand-held portable electronic devices in the form of cell phones containing information and data were not in common and broad use.  Further, in recent years, the capabilities of these small electronic devices have expanded to the extent that most types are now interactive, computer-like devices,” Lewis continued. “Vast amounts of private, personal information can be stored and accessed in or through these small electronic devices

As GigaOm writer Jeff John Roberts pointed out “The cases also reflect how quickly phone technology is evolving, and its implications for privacy. In one case, the evidence at issue is a call log that a cop obtained from a simple flip phone. The other case involves photos and videos taken from a smartphone that were used to establish that the phone owner was a gang member; the cop in the case also found evidence that every entry in the contact list that started with “the letter K were proceeded by the letter “C,” which gang members use to signify “Crip Killer.”

I am sure many police chiefs and officers prefer to have the Supreme Court make this ruling and avoid future confusion.  Since many states have yet to rule on cell phones warrants, and as technology continues to become more entwined with our personal lives, it seems as though this and other technology cases will continue to make their way to the country’s top court for clarification.

The cases are due before the court in April.

By Peter Olson

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