The President of the United States swears an oath to uphold the Constitution; the individual we are asked to regard as a President was a constitutional lawyer — and yet:
Last week the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to … rule that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless cellphone searches.
In 2007, the police arrested a Massachusetts man who appeared to be selling crack cocaine from his car. The cops seized his cellphone and noticed that it was receiving calls from “My House.” They opened the phone to determine the number for “My House.” That led them to the man’s home, where the police found drugs, cash and guns.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals found that they should have gotten a warrant before searching his phone.
The Obama Administration disagrees. In a petition filed earlier this month asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the government argues that the First Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the rulings of several other appeals courts, as well as with earlier Supreme Court cases. Those earlier cases have given the police broad discretion to search possessions on the person of an arrested suspect, including notebooks, calendars and pagers. The government contends that a cellphone is no different than any other object a suspect might be carrying.
But as the storage capacity of cellphones rises, that position could become harder to defend. Our smart phones increasingly contain everything about our digital lives: our e-mails, text messages, photographs, browser histories and more. It would be troubling if the police had the power to get all that information with no warrant merely by arresting a suspect.
Essentially, police would grant themselves the right to search your computer just by arresting you — a major swing of Big Government’s axe into the Fourth Amendment.
On tips from Conan and Bob Roberts.