Issue of Warrantless Cell Phone Searches Now Before Oregon Supreme Court
Fifteen years ago, not much more than 1 in 10 people even had a cell phone. Today, more than 9 and 10 people do, and the phones are getting smarter all the time. As more and more people use their phones as cameras, text messaging centers, and Internet portals, the amount of personal information available on the phone is breathtaking.
Given the remarkable extent of personal information accessible through someone's phone, shouldn't police be required to get a warrant before searching it? After all, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The issue is now before the Oregon Supreme Court in a case involving a name named James Nix, whom police suspected of a drug offense. Officers in Albany, Oregon, searched Nix's phone without a warrant, after making a traffic stop on a car in which he was a passenger.
The officers turned the phone over to their department's forensics expert, who searched through all of the content on the phone and found text messages that appeared to be related to a drug transaction. This offense was, in turn, used to help convict Mr. Nix on a drug charge.
Was the warrantless search constitutionally permissible? We believe it was not because the massive amount of personal information available on many people's phones makes that type of search qualitatively different from the search of an old-fashioned address book or calendar.
We do not make our lives into an open book for the government, just because we carry a cell phone with us in public.