back to article US Supreme Court to decide if cops can search mobes without a warrant

The US Supreme Court is debating two cases today that may decide whether or not the cops can search people’s mobile phones without a warrant. Defendants in two different cases, David Riley and Brima Wurie, are arguing that their convictions should be overturned because evidence from their phones was taken and used in court …


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  1. Number6

    Locked Phones

    So if your phone is secured with a PIN, can you be compelled to divulge it? I can see that there's a valid argument that an unlocked phone is no different to a diary or piece of paper in a pocket, but if it's PIN-protected then it's a level beyond that.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Locked Phones

      No. This is the Land of The Free so you're given the right to refuse handing over your PIN. By exercising that right you're walking in the footsteps of great men who made certain you would have that right. You'll have plenty of time to contemplate it all as prison libraries have racks of American History books.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Locked Phones

        Well if you're locking your phone, you're either peado or a terrorist. Don't believe me? Try refusing to unlock it in the UK.


        1. phil dude
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Locked Phones

          that's why there was a revolution in 1776...well mostly about taxes....but the dictatorship of the UK govt.

          It does not matter what your opinion is as a citizen (*subject*), the state has the army paid with YOUR taxes (that includes the police) armed to the teeth and with big boots to kick in your front door on a whim. All the rights in the universe mean nothing when you are drilled with bullets or given a public stamp of disapproval....

          The founding fathers knew about state arbitrary abuse of powers then, and it holds as true today as then.


          1. Mr Michael Strelitz

            Re: Locked Phones

            Not a revolution - a civil war.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Locked Phones

      Maybe phones need an option for "if I don't unlock this phone for x hours, wipe". Then you only need to wait out that timeout before providing the code to police. If the timeout is short enough (12 hours would work for most) your lawyer can probably stall things quite nicely. By the time your lawyer's objections are overcome and you provide the code it is too late.

      To prevent the "put it in a Faraday cage bag to prevent remote wipes" plan, a second option for "if no radio signal received for x hours, wipe".

      Of course, there's always the "alternate unlock code that unlocks the phone and wipes it at the same time".

      Just make sure if you keep backups of your phone to avoid losing everything when arrested that you use an offshore cloud provider. China would be a good choice for those of us living in the US/UK.

      This may all be for naught though, as in general I suspect the most incriminating info on the phone will be call history and text messages, which the police can get from your telco....

    3. cyrus

      Re: Locked Phones

      I have my phone set to erase itself after the 10th failed auth attempt. Wish I could set it to three. In the event I am ever asked for the pass word, I will feign com

  2. Kracula

    Very debatable matter

    But if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the convicts, this means that probably all police stations will have to get more equipment, software and people able to do a forensic image of the phones, while waiting for the search warrant. This is not gonna be cheap.

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Very debatable matter

      Police station? I doubt the local town precinct will be equipped to do such forensics. Or have the trained personnel available. Its more likely that the phone will be secured and sealed into a 'Faraday cage' bag (to prevent remote wipe signals) and transported to a regional lab facility.

      This makes the immediate search point moot. You don't want the local cops scrolling through the received messages (the test case that brought this before the Supremes). That is likely to trigger an automatic wipe if your suspect is a knowledgeable (and high value) target. So getting a warrant should be a non issue.

      My jacket. The one with the foil-lined pockets.

    2. Fluffy Bunny

      Re: Very debatable matter

      Really, since when is the cost of keeping things private any relevance? Benjamin Franklin said

      "They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Locked Phones

    Keep an email from a lawyer on your phone and then you can rightfully claim it's legally privileged... Then you give the legal eagles more to fight back with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Locked Phones

      Not in the UK.

      RIPA trumps privilege.

      1. Oninoshiko
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Locked Phones

        Nothing SCOTUS says has any bearing in the UK.

  4. sorry, what?
    Big Brother


    Does this apply to anyone standing/sitting/lying on US soil or are there different rules for Johnny Foreigner? (I suspect that if there are, the laws allow easier access to Johnny's mobe by the cops, right?)

    1. stu 4

      Re: Scope

      you have less rights the minute you travel to 'the land of the free'.

      for a start you are treated as a criminal the minute you get off the plane and are subject to having to be finger printed, and having them given over to the FBI/CIA forever.

      unlike joe smoe american who's prints will not be on record (assuming not criminal record).

      We should have implemented quid-pro-quo over here for american citizens imho. maybe adding a cavity inspection, and a general knowledge test before letting them into the country. I'd start with 'how many sides does a triangle have' and 'name a country beginning with U':

      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: Scope

        "unlike joe smoe american who's prints will not be on record (assuming not criminal record)."

        Except in states like the DPRC a.k.a. California where anyone with a state issued ID, transferred property or a whole list of other circumstances where Cali requires getting a print. Hey, in California everyone is a criminal as far as the state is concerned.

        1. Tom Maddox Silver badge

          Re: Scope

          "Except in states like the DPRC a.k.a. California where anyone with a state issued ID, transferred property or a whole list of other circumstances where Cali requires getting a print."

          Loosen the tinfoil hat, Eddy. The only time I've had to get fingerprinted in California was when I had to get something notarized, and that's a single thumbprint for purposes of verifying identity.

          1. Vector

            Re: Scope

            "The only time I've had to get fingerprinted in California was when I had to get something notarized..."

            Then you haven't gotten a driver's license recently. I just got mine renewed and a thumbprint was part of the process.

            1. Tom Maddox Silver badge

              Re: Scope

              I guess I'll find out next year. Or maybe I had to do it last time and forgot . . . because I don't see the big deal in a single thumbprint for verification of your identity for legally valid identity documentation. It's not like they're asking for a full ten spread and a cavity search, and I'm kind of happy that there's some kind of verification that the Tom Maddox (not an uncommon name) who was issued a driver's license is, in fact, me.

              But hey, oh noes, the gubmint is overreaching and all that.

              1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

                Re: Scope

                So you're claim is that a fingerprint is needed because the other documents, photograph and signature aren't enough?

                Congratulations, you're lucky enough so it happens only once in a great while, good for you! Come talk to me about it when the state mandated hemorrhoid has you putting your print on something several times a week in addition to all the other forms of identity you have to provide - every single time - because even though you're doing multiple documents at once, each document gets the same BS treatment. Our notary literally has multiple pages in the log that are just me - name, address, ID number, signature, print, stamp, etc. and an equal number of pages dedicated to other folks in the office. It isn't a tin foil hat that's too tight it's the byzantine rituals that have to be performed over and over because the person who was here 90 seconds ago or an hour or yesterday might be someone else. Let's not mention Kalifornia is the only state I'm aware of that requires the language of the document to be "just so" which means that when I get a document from out of state that doesn't have the DPRC required verbiage it requires adding pages which have to be "permanently affixed" to the original. It's crap, there is no valid reason for it!

      2. sorry, what?

        Re: Scope

        @Stu 4: Fortunately, the Americans who come to the UK tend to be a little bit more intelligent than those shown in the YouTube vid you referenced. After all, they have realized that America != world, that Utah is a state not a country, there are other currencies than $$$, that we aren't all on the "axis of evil" and that America doesn't really want to turn Saudi Arabia and the other oil producers into a "glass crater".

  5. NoneSuch

    "Lawyers for the US government have told the court that searching a mobile phone is no different to other warrantless searches of items on a person at the time of their arrest."

    Or the NSA doing a warrantless search of your phone while you are walking in a city park. Amazing how some branches of government seem to be governed by the constitution while others ignore it without punishment.

    1. Fluffy Bunny

      A key point in one of these cases is that the search of the mobile happened twice. Once at the time of the arrest, the second several hours later. This second search could easily be claimed to be outside of the arrest processing and therefore not valid because it didn't have a warrant.

  6. ItsNotMe

    Well considering that laptops/tablets/computers are fair game at the borders...

    by the customs folks...I suspect that cell phones will be next for the local plods.

    Sure am enjoying all that "Change" that our dear president spoke so eloquently about back all those years ago in his first campaign.

    The only "change" that has taken place since the two Bush's reign has been the monograms on the Tea Towels at the White House.

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    The 4th Amendment no longer exists

    The 4th Amendment died decades ago due to the War on Drugs.

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: The 4th Amendment no longer exists

      Yep the War on Drugs did a good job on it but what finished off the dying dog 4th Amendment with a full drum clip was the War on Terror™. Off topic slightly but it looks like the new boogie man is going to be the old one we always were sadly comfortable with, big bad Russia. Repeat after me, we have always been at war with Eurasia.

    2. Irony Deficient

      Re: The 4th Amendment no longer exists

      ecofeco, the key word in the Fourth is unreasonable. Since the word isn’t explicitly defined in the Constitution, Congress gets to define it (with occasional input from the Supreme Court), and the President gets to enforce its most recent definition. Detesting the current definition of unreasonable or how that definition is enforced does not mean that the Fourth no longer exists.

    3. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: The 4th Amendment no longer exists

      This really should be a no-brainer. The police have the person in custody, and they have the phone. They can wrap it in foil and keep it in a metal box until they manage convince a judge of the need for a warrant, showing probable cause to believe the phone contains information relevant to criminal activity.

  8. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

    I'll wager that the SCOTUS sides with the convicts.

    There is some case law going back 40+ years that talk about the expectation of privacy.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: I'll wager that the SCOTUS sides with the convicts.

      And so they should - the world is actually no different than it was 40+ years ago. The whole point of the protections in the US Constitution is to make it hard for the State to override the interests of the individual. The weakening of the protections has led to an unwarranted (pun genuinely not intended) intrusion of the lower parts of the State apparatus (police in this case) being able to breach reasonable privacy rights without the correct recourse through a judge (though some of the small-town judges are so far up the arses of the local plod that they are indistinguishable from them).

      Unfortunately, I don't share your analysis of the likely outcome - the Supreme Court has become the enabler of the continual erosion of rights. They are more likely to give carte blanche to the police to increase their reach.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        Re: I'll wager that the SCOTUS sides with the convicts.

        There's SCOTUS decisions that go back and set precedence.

        The one case that I can think of is when a bookie had his case overturned because there was an expectation of privacy when he stepped in to the public phone booth to place his bets, unknown to him the FBI put a wire tap on the phone. (Without a warrant.)

        Had they gotten a warrant, it would have all been legal, however, without the warrant, the tap itself was illegal.

  9. JustWondering

    No big deal

    I don't see the police stopping the practice, even if they get an unfavorable decision. All this decision will do is establish whether what they find is admissible in court.

  10. auburnman

    I'm starting to wonder...

    ...If it would be worth a company rebranding their smartphones as Personal Computers that just so happen to take SIM cards and have the capacity to do calls and texts. Apple trying to ban your phone? We don't make phones your Honour, we make portable PC's that can connect to multiple networks including but not limited to legacy telecomms infrastructure. Ordered to unlock your phone? I'm sorry officer, I only carry a personal computer that stores my electronic papers and effects.

    If they can play silly buggers with definitions, why can't we?

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