High Court rules police need search warrants for cell phones

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday that police must first obtain a search warrant if they want to look through a cell phone.

The case centered on a Jacksonville case where police seized the phone of a man identified as the robber of a convenience store. Police took the man's cell phone and searched the photos, identifying several images that were relevant to the investigation.

Justice Fred Lewis wrote in the majority opinion that police were right to take the man's cell phone during the arrest and search of his body, but that they did not have the right to search the phone, which was essentially the same as searching a computer.

Searching a phone, he wrote, "is not a search of the person incident to an arrest, but is an unauthorized search of highly advanced technology which may contain extensive personal information."

"The court then concluded that, given the ability of modern cell phones to be the database for and provide access to tremendous amounts of private data, they are entitled to a heightened expectation of privacy," Lewis continued.

Lewis was joined in his opinion by Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James Perry. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Charles Canady dissented.


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