A view of the US Supreme Courts recent ruling:
On Wednesday this week The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that law enforcement agencies may not search the cell phones of criminal suspects upon arrest without a warrant.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the judgement:
Cellphones are unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest. They are not just another technological convenience, but ubiquitous, increasingly powerful computers that contain vast quantities of personal, sensitive 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.
A cell phone search 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—unless the phone is.
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.
The right to privacy comes at a price and that is now what law enforcement officers throughout the US will need to consider as part of their procedures for mobile device examinations.
Ellen Canale, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the agency would work with law enforcement to ensure "full compliance" with the decision.
"We will make use of whatever technology is available to preserve evidence on cell phones while seeking a warrant, and we will assist our agents in determining when exigent circumstances or another applicable exception to the warrant requirement will permit them to search the phone immediately without a warrant," Canale said.
For our customers within the US we offer the simple (albeit tongue in cheek) suggestion they buy a few paint tins. In the absence of a budget for the investment in proper Faraday cages or bags to retain mobile devices, a number of practioners have found that the humble paint tin can act as quite a good signal blocker.
Albeit there are no guarantees - some of our customers have discovered that putting a mobile device inside a small paint tin, and that inside another larger tin and then perhaps placing them in the basement of a building where mobile signals struggle to reach, might just help prevent a signal wiping all the evidence off the device before a judge has authorized the search warrant.
On a more serious point, law enforcement agencies still need to recover evidence from suspect mobile devices. The courts, prosecutors and even the defence (if they think it will help their case) will expect officers to do all they can to secure best evidence for a criminal trial. So the demand for mobile forensic tools remains and the training and policies around their use become more important than ever.
The ruling will change the procedures of US law enforcement, but the demand to capture and secure evidence for court will always remain.
US Supreme Court Ruling