Expectation of privacy, government intervention in private lives and Constitutional protection are all hot topics. Stay with me on this. I know that the prior sentence can cause anyone’s eyes to just glaze over. Instead, let me tell you about a Florida case and see what you think.
The decision has been called a protection for drug dealers and child pornographers. Others call it an appropriate recognition of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that guarantees that citizens are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Tampa Bay Times reports on the ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. In a 5-2 opinion involving facts from a 2008 robbery of a convenience store, the Court ruled that “a warrant was required before the information, data and content of the cellphone could be accessed and searched by law enforcement”. It is all about the expectation of cellphone privacy.
The majority ruled that police cannot just take a cellphone and go through it, without a warrant. There is an expectation of pricvacy. The two dissenting justices noted that the opinion “has the potential to work mischief in Fourth Amendment law.”
The police noted that a man found with five child pornography photos in his pocket, could be arrested for having child pornography photos in his possession. Conversely, if the pictures are on a cellphone, “he’s going to get away with it”.
The Court did leave open the possibility that there could be an exemption for the requirement of a warrant for ”exigent circumstances”. That might leave the door open if it appears that evidence is about to be deleted. That makes me imagine a police officer snatching a phone out of the hands of some suspect who is scrolling and deleting.
I regularly hear the expression that “our founding forefathers would have (insert a multitude of things)”. Sometimes it does seem clear as to what the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution meant. Other times, it might not seem so clear. Especially when it relates to cellphones and other technology. Like this is a case where modern day meets Constitutional scrutiny. That’s why 7 Justices on the Florida Supreme Court could not agree.
This robbery case had made it to the Florida Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals had ruled differently. They had applied a 1973 case where police had found heroin in a cigarette pack during a search. This Supreme Court overturned the lower court and distinguished the phone from drugs in a cigarette pack. What do you think?
For pic o’ day, how about some airline non-humor:
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