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Police must get warrants to search phones, Supreme Court says

Kirsten Luna from Holland, Michigan, uses her smartphone outside the U.S. Supreme Court after a major ruling on cell phone privacy by the court June 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring law enforcement officials to have a search warrant to search the cellphones of suspects they arrest. (Win McNamee, Getty Images)
Kirsten Luna from Holland, Michigan, uses her smartphone outside the U.S. Supreme Court after a major ruling on cell phone privacy by the court June 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring law enforcement officials to have a search warrant to search the cellphones of suspects they arrest. (Win McNamee, Getty Images)
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Updated: 6/25 10:06 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Police may not generally search the cell phones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

The court said cell phones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest. Because the phones contain so much information, police must get a warrant before looking through them, Chief Justice John Robert said.

The Supreme Court previously had ruled that police could empty a suspect's pockets and examine whatever they find to ensure officers' safety and prevent the destruction of evidence.

The Obama administration and the state of California, defending the cell phone searches, said phones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else police find on a suspect.

But the defendants in these cases, backed by civil libertarians, librarians and news media groups, argued that cell phones, especially smartphones, are increasingly powerful computers that can store troves of sensitive personal information.

In the cases decided Wednesday, one defendant carried a smartphone and the other carried an older flip cell phone.

"Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life," Roberts said. The court's answer to what police must do before searching phones is simple: "Get a warrant," he said.

©2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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