Cops Need Warrant to Search Cellphones, Court Rules

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police need a warrant to search a person's cellphone even when someone is placed under arrest -- a ruling D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has previously said will change policing nationwide.

    The high court ruled against the Obama administration in an 8-to-1 decision.

    The current law is that police search anything on a person when they make an arrest, but opponents argue that smartphones were different because they hold personal information.

    "Typically, there is time to get subpoenas, warrants, but sometimes there is a sense of urgency," Lanier said when the court was handed the case in April.

    The courts have long held that police can, without a warrant, search anything they find on people they arrest, like purses or wallets.

    But opponents argued that smartphones were different because they hold such vast and personal stores of information.

    "Obviously this will have a huge impact on policing nationwide," Lanier said in the spring. "But I think the court does a good job of balancing the needs of law enforcement and public safety and the privacy of citizens."

    The court suggested police could still move ahead without a warrant in extreme circumstances — for example, a suspect texting someone who might detonate a bomb, or in the case of a kidnapper who might have information about the child’s location on his phone.

    Those special circumstances can be evaluated by a court after the fact, the court pointed out, NBCNews reported