The US supreme court agreed on Friday to decide whether police can search an arrested criminal suspect's cellphone without a warrant in two cases that showcase how the courts are wrestling to keep up with rapid technological advances.
Taking up a pair of cases arising from criminal prosecutions that used evidence obtained without a warrant, the high court will wade into how to apply older court precedent - which allows police to search items carried by a defendant at the time of arrest - to cellphones. Many cellphones now contain a mass of personal information about the owner.
The legal question before the justices is whether a search for such information after a defendant is arrested violates the fourth amendment of the US constitution, which bans unreasonable searches. The outcome would determine whether prosecutors in such circumstances could submit evidence gleaned from cellphones in court.
Under court precedent, police are permitted to search at the time of an arrest without a warrant, primarily to ensure the defendant is not armed and to secure evidence that could otherwise be destroyed.