Supreme Court rules cellphone searches require warrant

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that law enforcement searches of cellphones require a search warrant. (KABC)

In a landmark ruling on privacy in the digital age, the U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that law enforcement searches of cellphones require a search warrant.

The Supreme Court defends the privacy rights of suspects, ruling that cellphones cannot be searched without a court order.

The ruling stems in part from a case out of San Diego, where police found a photos of gang activity on a cellphone.

The Obama Administration and the state of California defended cellphone searches, saying the phones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else police find. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying that's unconstitutional.

Cellphones evolved from telephones into vaults of personal information, a window into a person's entire life.

The Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday that law enforcement officers are not allowed to go through cellphones without a warrant.

"I think that this is one of the biggest opinions that the Supreme Court has come out with in a long time," said criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Gregory Caplan.

Caplan says the ruling doesn't mean police can't seize a cellphone, or go through it in emergency situations, like if someone's life is in danger.

But now, under normal circumstances, before police turn a cellphone on and go through it as part of an investigation, a judge will have to sign off.

"If someone who is pulled over and the officer asks to search their phone, I would suggest at this point that they say no, and ask to speak to a defense attorney to find out what their rights are," said Caplan.

Now law enforcement agencies, who often use cellphones as investigative tools for crimes as serious as homicides, are figuring out how to implement the new ruling and train officers.

Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn says it's just an extra step, but not a hindrance to police work.

"If we believe that that is part of the investigation of that crime, we will absolutely seize that cellphone and obtain a search warrant. The search warrants are a little bit easier nowadays with electronic availability of writing that search warrant," said Ryburn.

On the street, widespread support for the ruling.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department echoed what Burbank Police said, and say they usually get warrants anyway.

The Los Angeles Police Department acknowledges that in some cases, information could be deleted remotely by the time investigators get a search warrant, but say they will work on ways to prevent that from happening.

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technologyu.s. supreme courtu.s. & worldWashington D.C.
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