Everyone in New Jersey is protected by the Bill of Rights. The first 10 amendments to the Constitution serve a variety of roles, but their biggest is to protect us against an overreaching government. When it comes to criminal law, this often means the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring that the government obtain a warrant before they go digging through our things for information. According to a new Supreme Court of the United States ruling, that also means our cellphones, smartphones and likely our laptops and tablets.
Who really knows how much information there is about us on our phones and other electronic devices. We think we have an idea, but technological advances often mean that there is even more information that can be extracted than we even know about. Now that this information is protected against unwarranted searches, we are able to regain a bit of our privacy.
There are some who would say that it is important for officers to inspect phones after an arrest, as an arrestee might have something with which to harm an officer. Of course, an officer can check for physical threats, such as a razor, but after that, the data on the phone can do nothing to harm the officer and, thus, requires a search warrant.
How this ultimately plays out in New Jersey remains to be seen, but it will hopefully go far to protect individual citizens' rights to privacy. By requiring a warrant, police must make their case before a magistrate or judge before being given permission to search through an individual's phone.
Source: The New York Times, "Major Ruling Shields Privacy of Cellphones," Adam Liptak, June 25, 2014