Microsoft Hails Supreme Court Cell Phone Warrant Ruling

Microsoft's chief lawyer applauds the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision that requires law enforcement to produce a warrant to search cell phones.

court ruling on cell phone searches

Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs for Microsoft, left little doubt on his company's stance regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on cell phone warrants.

After tackling two high-profile cases, Riley vs. California and United States vs. Wurie, the nation's top court ruled on June 25 that law enforcement cannot examine the contents of cell phones without a search warrant. In both cases, police officers seized devices during an arrest, which yielded evidence that led to arrests on additional charges.

In the court's opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts, stated that today's "cell phones are not just another technological convenience."

"The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought," added Roberts. "Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant."

Microsoft is pleased with the Supreme Court's "historic" decision, which "will be remembered as another seminal moment in advancing privacy protection," said Smith in a statement. Noting that the decision was struck by a "unanimous rather than divided court," he singled out the "court's reasoning and its positive implications both for smart devices and the storage of personal information in the cloud."

The Supreme Court is catching up with the times, according to Smith. "The Court put a stake firmly in the ground and effectively declared that privacy protection must account for new technologies."

An exception in the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement makes it possible for authorities to perform warrantless searches of an arrestee's possessions and immediate area, "such as a wallet, purse or the inside of a car," said Smith. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure of property by the government.

In effect, smartphones are being extended similar protections as a person's home under the law.

And in some respects, noted Smith, smartphones can reveal far more about a people than a search of their homes. "As [the Supreme Court] observed, the search of a cell phone 'would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house: A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form,'" he wrote.

The justices' ruling is a win for privacy advocates. "More than in any other recent decision, the Supreme Court this week advanced privacy in a digital era characterized by ubiquitous computing," said Smith.

"As a result, the scales of justice shifted in a profound way toward a new ideal of privacy in a digital world," he added.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...