In 2014 a unanimous Supreme Court found that, absent extreme circumstances, cellphones cannot be searched without a warrant.[1] The case was Riley v. California, and it pulled back creeping government intrusion that had violated the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures (that is, searches and seizures without a warrant, or certain exceptions to the warrant requirements). Nearly two years later, the width and breadth of this decision are still being tested in the lower courts.  Luckily for the 4th Amendment, it seems that lower courts remain unpersuaded that cellphones generally pose a threat that would trigger the warrantless search exceptions.

In fact, just last week the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois ruled that even opening a flip phone and looking at the home screen/lock screen image is a search under the Riley standards.[2]  Why is this important?  As the Riley court noted, cell phones are microcomputers filled with massive amounts of private information.[3]  This sort of private and personal information is of the exact sort the framers contemplated when they drafted the 4th Amendment and its grant of the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures…”[4]

--By Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law

Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.