In an unexpectedly sweeping opinion, a nearly united Supreme Court today recognized the fourth amendment’s protection for digital privacy. Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in Riley v. California is grounded on the Founders’ abhorrence of general warrants and unparticularized intrusions into our private lives. It highlights the pervasiveness of cell-phone (“minicomputer”) use, as well as the volume and breadth of data – current and historical – accessible through such devices. Continuing the sea-change started with Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in Jones, and citing to John Adams, the Court voices deep concern about providing law enforcement warrantless windows into our lives, and skepticism about the government’s officer-safety and risk-of-evidence-destruction rationales. Recognizing the revolutionary nature of modern technology, the court affirms that cell phones are different and tells the government the answer to its concerns is “simple” – get a warrant.
We will be preparing a detailed analysis of this groundbreaking decision in the coming days, but given its importance, we wanted to make sure our readers were aware of it as soon as possible.