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Understanding cell phones and search warrants

All Rhode Island citizens have the right to protection from unlawful searches, and understanding how cell phones are included in this is of paramount importance if law enforcement is investigating a person for a crime. With texts, email, social media and even banking often taking place with the use of a personal cell phone, it is only within the past few years that the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified how the Fourth Amendment applies.

As CNN explains, officers are not able to search a suspect's cell phone without first receiving a search warrant. The 2014 ruling by the high court states that while cars, wallets and other personal effects, such as briefcases, are able to be searched initially without a warrant, cell phones and other electronics do not fall into this category because they do not threaten the safety of officers. Since phones now contain personal communication and other information that was not previously as readily available as it is today, cell phone searches are held to a higher standard, much like the search of one's home. In order to search the contents of a home or phone, law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant in advance of the search.

All cell phone data is not currently covered by this ruling, however. As NBC News reports, the Supreme Court has decided to hear a case determining whether or not a search warrant is needed before being able to track a suspect using the cell tower location information from his or her phone. The data from cell towers can help officers follow the movements a person makes, based on the cell phone usage, but some believe using this data is a violation of privacy. The case will be heard in autumn. 

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