The Supreme Court took up the question of whether police can search the cellphones of people they’ve arrested without first obtaining a warrant. All the argument, according to the report in today’s New York Times, was about criminal cases, remote-controlled bombs or driving without a seatbelt.
Actually, there’s a far more important context, government suppression of peaceful demonstrations. One of the standard tactics to emerge in recent years has been the mass arrest of demonstrators, scooped up by the hundreds, held in custody and then released a day or two later with charges dropped. I’d like to see a successful legal challenge to this, but I’m not holding my breath.
If the court, in its wisdom, decides that routine searches of cellphones are permitted, it is only a matter of time before mass cellphone inspection becomes part of the routine. Why settle for simply squashing a demonstration—why not find out the organizational structure, the informal networks, the pathways by which information and ideas are disseminated? It’s all there in those little phones.