As a place to live, California has a lot going for it: the Pacific Ocean, pleasant weather, celeb spottings. But if you’re concerned about the police perusing the contents of your smartphone without a warrant, you might prefer to spend your time further east, in the Buckeye State.
The Supreme Courts of California and Ohio have come down on opposite sides of the question of whether police need a warrant to search an arrested person’s cellphone. California may be perceived as the tech-savvy state, thanks to playing host to Silicon Valley, but when it comes to how the law applies to technology, its analysis is rather simplistic. In an opinion issued Monday, California’s court said “no warrant needed,” equating a cell phone with a pack of cigarettes. Hmmmm. Cell phones are addictive, I suppose…
The opinion cites United States v. Robinson, a 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed police to search a cigarette package in an arrested person’s pocket that turned out to contain heroin.
Ohio’s court, on the other hand, ruled in December 2009 that a cell phone is more like a laptop, holding vast amounts of personal information and thus subject to greater privacy protections — namely, a warrant requirement for searching it.
Two widely divergent decisions within a year of one another. Regular readers know I like the “tale of two lawsuits” genre of stories, in which different judges look at the same technology and come to opposite conclusions. Let’s look a little more closely at these two cases — both involving drug dealers and their cellphones.