Cell phones: No warrant, no search - and the public agree

June 25, 2014, 7:22 PM GMT+0

The vast majority of Americans agree with the Supreme Court that police should not be able to search someone's cell phone without a search warrant

In a rare unanimous decision on a controversial topic, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the police cannot search someone's cell phone who has been arrested without first getting a search warrant. The federal government has long fought the case. The wallets of arrested people can currently be searched without a warrant and the federal government had argued that cell phones should not be treated differently from other possessions people carry. Justices ruled, however, that because cell phones routinely contain such a vast amount of information about a person's life that people should have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Previously unpublished research from YouGov shows that Americans widely agree that cell phones of arrested people should not be searched without a warrant. 70% say that police should need a warrant to search phones, while only 19% say that they shouldn't need a warrant. Most people (57%) also oppose allowing the police to search wallets without a warrant, though 34% do support warrantless searches of the wallets of arrested people. Only 13% think that arrested people's homes should be able to be searched without a warrant.

The survey was conducted two months ago, while the Supreme Court was hearing the case.

While the partisan divide on this issue is almost non-existent, there is a significant age divide on whether or not the cell phones of arrested people should be searchable by the police. The older someone is, the more likely they are to say that warrantless searches of cell phones are acceptable. Only 9% of under-30s think that it is OK for the police to search a cell phone, compared to 35% of over-65s. Nevertheless, most over-65s (52%) do think that the police should get a warrant to search a phone.

The cases that prompted the Supreme Court to take a look at this issue were the convictions of two separate men, one for attempted murder and one on gun and drugs charges that were largely based on information that the police had acquired by searching the cell phones of the defendents without a search warrant.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty