Sens. Paul, Coons Urge Supreme Court to Support Smartphone Privacy

Image: Sens. Paul, Coons Urge Supreme Court to Support Smartphone Privacy

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 08:57 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Two U.S. senators urged the Supreme Court to support the constitutional right to privacy in two cases involving searches without warrants of smartphones.

In a commentary for Politico, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware opined on the lawsuits Riley v. California and the United States v. Wurie.

"At question is whether the police can search the contents of a phone without a warrant during an arrest," they wrote. "At stake is whether technological advancements have rendered one of our most treasured civil liberties obsolete."

Many Americans "keep their entire lives on their phones," including family photos, daily appointments, emails, and Internet searches, while the phone can even pinpoint where they have been each day, the senators wrote.

According to these two cases, the federal government and the state of California are calling for unfettered access to smartphones owned by people under arrest, without needing search warrants because of public safety concerns.

But Paul and Coons say the Fourth Amendment was written into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers to grant Americans the right to feel "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

At the time, the amendment was aimed at preventing a repeat of one of the main grievances under British rule that allowed officials to search colonial homes and rifle through their private papers and personal belongings for potentially damning evidence, the senators wrote.

"There can be little doubt that the modern smartphone is today’s equivalent of our Founders’ 'papers and effects,'" they wrote. "The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable, warrantless searches of these modern-day versions of 'papers and effects.'"

Paul and Coons wrote that if there are no inherent dangers in a suspect having a smartphone, the officers must first obtain a search warrant, justified by probable cause, from a judge.

"The evolution of technology and modern life creates challenges for a Constitution ratified 235 years ago," they wrote. "Technology will continue to evolve, but our Constitution endures. We took an oath to uphold the Constitution. So did every member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The government says that it has the authority to search phones without a warrant.
As a matter of text and history, however, the Fourth Amendment says that they do not. We hope the Supreme Court agrees."

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