The Supreme Court Expands Electronic Privacy

In a decision released June 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court held that law enforcement officials could not search a suspect’s cell phone or electronic devices as part of an arrest. In Riley v. California, the Supreme Court maintained that the officials would need to secure a warrant to look through those devices. This holding is especially monumental because it establishes the country’s highest court’s position that electronic devices enjoy privacy protection under the Constitution. Indeed, the Court notes several times throughout the decision that since electronic devices contain so much of users’ most private data, these devices must enjoy a heightened level of privacy.

At the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, we are fully knowledgeable and experienced in the practice of electronic privacy protection for individuals and businesses. Our office handles all civil matters dealing with violations of cyber privacy. Indeed, by speaking to an attorney, you can take precautionary steps to help protect your privacy and personal data.

How Will Riley v. California Impact Individual Privacy Rights?

The Supreme Court emphasized that today’s electronic devices, such as cell phones and smartphones, have the capacity to store a wealth of private information. This includes financial data, contact information, private documents, and information about third parties. Also, smartphones have immense storage capacity. For example, by looking through a phone, a law enforcement official could access the user’s “cloud” and all the data that is stored in there. A “cloud” is a remote storage location, where users can upload and save personal data—including contact information, personal documentation, and communication history. While police officers may have an interest in investigating this information, the Supreme Court focused first on the individual’s constitutionally protected privacy rights. Since searching electronic devices allows access to such broad information, it also threatens to reach implicate third parties with data available on the device. Indeed, this search could also incriminate electronic storage companies—such as Internet service providers, cloud computing companies, and third party storage sites.

How Will Riley v. California Impact Corporate Privacy Rights?

A broad interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision suggests that this holding will tighten electronic privacy in all areas, not just as it applies to cell phones during an arrest. For example, the Department of Justice has used the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to argue that it is entitled to search without a warrant the contents of emails opened or stored for more than 180 days. However, courts have increasingly been ruling that the government must first obtain a warrant and a subpoena is not enough. The Court is careful to point out that the facts are limited to searches incident to arrest, or searches that take place during an arrest. However, the judges hint at their willingness to consider strengthening electronic privacy. Furthermore, the Court points out that law enforcement agencies and lower courts must begin to appreciate that searching an electronic device is far more intrusive than searching a location or physical container. For corporations, this means greater security for databases, electronic files, and electronic communications. With this ruling, courts and government agencies are more likely to require a warrant before breaching the electronic privacy barrier.

If you would like to understand how this decision may affect your privacy, you may contact us to speak with an attorney about various legal protections.