Is There An Expectation Of Privacy In Your Cell Phone

Do individuals have an expectation of privacy in their cell-phone?  The Constitution provides that citizens are protected from unreasonable search and seizures by government agents (4th Amendment).  This applies to the person, home, papers, vehicles and other effects.  Absent certain enumerated exigent circumstances a warrant is needed prior to government agents conduct a search.   In June of 2014, (Riley v California) the United States Supreme Court extended this requirement to cell phones, requiring a warrant to searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest.  In short the main factor of the decision is that cell phone contains what Chief Justice Roberts referred to as “the privacies of life.”  Thus absent a warrant and probable cause police cannot simple search the contents of a cell phone. Since then some Federal District Courts have attempted to hold Riley as the exception and not the rule. While a majority of Courts have followed the ruling.

The next likely issue to make its way to the Supreme Court is whether the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination applies to granting access to your cell phone.  Most cell phones have the ability to be password-protected; however, users can unlock certain iPhone models via fingerprint recognition.  Recently a Virginia Circuit Court judge held that the 5th amendment protects people from police forcing them to enter their password to unlock their phone, thus allowing police to search the contents of the phone.  This as the Court held would be forcing the suspect to self-incrimination.  However, the judge did not extend this protection to finger-print protected phones.  The rational being that compelling a suspect to provide their fingerprints to access TouchID phone is no different then requiring DNA or handwriting.

There are two different aspects of the Constitution at play, and it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court will analyze the later of the two situations, if at all.