Microsoft Poll: Most Americans Support Cell Phone Warrants

The majority of Americans approve of the Supreme Court's recent decision, which requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant to search cell phones.

cell phone search warrants

In a June 25 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that cell phone searches by police require a warrant. Industry and privacy groups aren't the only ones pleased with the decision, so are a majority of Americans, according to Microsoft.

Eighty-three percent of American voters are siding with the nation's Chief Justices' belief that police should be legally required to obtain a warrant before conducting a search of a person's cell phone, according to a survey conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove, a public opinion research firm. Microsoft sponsored the study of 800 registered voters.

Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs, said in a statement that the recent Supreme Court ruling "shifted the scales of justice in a profound way." The judges, he said "noted that phones today are often a gateway to the email and pictures we now store in the cloud, and these deserve the same constitutional protection we've traditionally had for things kept in our homes."

Soon after the Supreme Court passed its "historic" decision, Smith said that it "will be remembered as another seminal moment in advancing privacy protection." It was a sign that the nation's laws were starting to catch up with the times, he argued. "The court put a stake firmly in the ground and effectively declared that privacy protection must account for new technologies."

Chief John Roberts stated in the court's opinion that cell phones today "are not just another technological convenience," but rather a trove of potentially revealing private information. "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," he said.

"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," concluded Roberts.

A majority of respondents (86 percent) also said "police should have to follow the same legal requirements for obtaining personal information stored in the cloud as they do for personal information stored on paper," according to Smith. The issue is a pressing one for Microsoft, as the company is currently embroiled in a court fight concerning data stored overseas.

Microsoft is challenging the U.S. Department of Justice's use of a "hybrid" of a warrant (subpoena and warrant) in acquiring access to emails stored at the company's data center in Dublin, Ireland. "We've raised another unresolved question in a case in federal court in New York in which we're challenging a search warrant seeking customer communications stored in our data center in Ireland," said Smith.

"We think it's a problem for governments to use a warrant to reach across international borders and search a person's email without respecting local privacy laws," said Smith. So do many Americans, judging by the survey's data. Seventy-nine percent of those respondents "agree the federal government should have to respect local privacy laws when searching through people's personal information like their email accounts," he wrote.

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...