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American Library Association applauds unanimous ruling in two civil liberties cases

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Fourth Amendment when they ruled in David Leon Riley v. State of California and United States v. Brima Wurie that officers of the law must obtain warrants before they can search the cellphones of arrestees. The two cases began when police officers searched the cell phones of defendants Riley and Wurie without obtaining a warrant. The searches recovered texts, videos, photos, and telephone numbers that were later used as evidence. The Supreme Court of California found the cell phone search lawful in Riley’s case, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, reached the opposite conclusion and reversed Wurie’s conviction.

In March, the American Library Association, along with the Internet Archive, filed a “friend of the court” (pdf) brief in David Leon Riley v. State of California and United States v. Brima Wurie, two Supreme Court cases examining the constitutionality of cell phone searches after police arrests. In the amicus brief, both nonprofit organizations argue that warrantless cell phone searches violate privacy principles protected by the Fourth Amendment.

In the unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court stated:

The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone. They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers.

Emily Sheketoff executive director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington Office, swiftly released a statement today in response to the victorious court decision.

“In the past few years, our cell phones have become mobile libraries capable of storing massive amounts of personal and private data about our lives,” said Sheketoff in a statement. “The Constitution does not give law enforcement the right to conduct unlawful searches of our cell phones–many of which contain immensely personal information, such as our private conversations, photos, videos, banking information and website history.

“In the same manner that we would not allow police officers to search unlawfully through our home library bookshelves without a warrant, we cannot allow government officials to search freely through our cell phones. We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold basic privacy principles granted by the Fourth Amendment. As we work to advocate for increased privacy protections from our government, we are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in favor of protecting the nation’s constitutional checks and balances.”

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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