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Are your cell phones private?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday was hesitant with allowing police to search through cell phones of people they arrest, taking a new angle on privacy in this rapidly growing digital world.

The Supreme Court justices appeared ready to reject the Obama administration’s argument that police should be able to make searches without first getting a warrant. A key factor in the two cases argued on Tuesday is whether a personal cell phone, compiled with seemingly endless amounts of sensitive records, photographs and communications, are private in the same sense as households.

The court heard arguments in cases involving a drug dealer and a gang member whose convictions turned in part on evidence found on their cell phones. The justices suggested they might favor limiting warrantless cell phone searches to looking for evidence of the crime on which an arrest is based. Both defendants could lose in such an outcome.

In a broader sense, if a ruling is made which allows for police to search through phones without a warrant it could harm everyone for simply incidents as a taillight was out. It could allow for police to connect to the Internet and find any information stored online.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that police can empty a suspect’s pockets and examine whatever they find to ensure officers’ safety and prevent the destruction of evidence. The Obama administration and the state of California, defending the searches, said cell phones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else police find.

The issue is of more than passing concern for many people. More than 90 percent of Americans own at least one cell phone, according to the Pew Research Center, and the majority of those are Smartphone’s. More than 12 million people were arrested in the U.S. in 2012, according to FBI statistics.

A ruling has not been made currently. Decisions in Riley v. California, 13-132, and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212, are expected by late June.

How do we determine what the new expectation of privacy will be?

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