Supreme Court may re-define privacy in the digital world

Amrita Kaur, Copy editor

Is digital technology subject to a warrantless search or is it protected under the fourth amendment? That is the question currently debated in the Supreme Court.

The case that sparked the court conversation is that of the Riley v. California case, where a San Diego man was arrested during a police stop for expired tags and his smartphone was searched without a warrant.

The information found by the police on the smartphone was later used in court as evidence against the suspect.

According to a detailed article published on April 29 in The New York Times, justices had varying points of view on the subject matter.

“Smartphones do present difficult problems,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., asking, “so how do we determine what the new expectation of privacy is now?”

He also added that the pace of change made the justices’ jobs very difficult.

“We’re living in a new world,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “Someone arrested for a minor crime has their whole life exposed on this little device.”

Several justices noted that modern smartphones contain troves of private material, including bank and medical records, personal emails and hundreds of personal pictures and private text messages.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, one of Riley’s lawyers, warned the justices to think hard about a decision he said could fundamentally change, “the nature of privacy that Americans fought for at the founding of the Republic and that we’ve enjoyed ever since.”

“Even the notion of flipping through photos in a smartphone implicates vast amounts of information,” he said, “not just the photos themselves, but the GPS locational data that’s linked in with it, all kinds of other information that is intrinsically intertwined in smartphones.”

Much of the argument concerned whether or not immediate searches were required to keep police officers safe and to prevent the destruction of evidence.

The smartphone generation feels an uneasiness when presented with this debate.

Belinda Novoa, a 21 year-old radiology major, said that there has to be a major probable cause, seeing something that would give the police reason to search a person’s phone.

“They should have to go through a proper process and get a warrant before searching through someone’s phone,” she said.

Some students  like Robert Benson, a 25 year-old communications major view the warrantless phone search as an infringement of their privacy.

“It’s personal. Who are they to be inside your lives? They are not supposed to control us, this is just an excuse for them to get into our lives. They can’t go into our Facebook and snapchat,” said Benson.

The fourth amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

Sarah Hutchison, a 22 year-old civil engineering major, says that’s what the amendment is there for, to protect the average, innocent civilian from government overreach in privacy matters.

“No. The government shouldn’t have that information, such as looking through our google searches. Same goes for cellphones, it’s a privacy thing,” she said, adding that the warrantless search allowance could lead to further regulations on privacy.

“Later on other laws will be passed that would allow them to regulate the system and allow them more access to our private lives. Phones are a lot more personal.”