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Opinion poll results concur with Supreme Court decision on privacy

The American public appears to agree with the U.S. Supreme Court when it comes to privacy and cell phones.

The American public appears to agree with the U.S. Supreme Court, which last month released the Riley v. California decision, when it comes to privacy and cell phones.

Some 83 percent of those responding in a survey of 800 registered voters undertaken between July 7 and July 8, 2014, believe the police need to get a warrant before searching personal information on someone’s cell phone.

In addition, 86 percent believe police need “to follow the same legal requirements for obtaining personal information stored in the cloud as they do for personal information stored on paper,” according to a recent blog post from Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith.

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FURTHER READING:

Justices concerned about opening cellphones to warrantless searches

Pivotal Supreme Court case could expand unwarranted cellphone searches 

Privacy rights getting some needed support from courts: Brad Smith

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The Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision on Riley that police need a warrant to search someone’s cell phone.

The case relates to David Riley, who was convicted in connection with a 2009 San Diego shooting in part via a photo found on his cellphone. But it was located without first getting a warrant, InsideCounselreported.

“Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in the ruling.

In the poll, some 75 percent of those questioned confirmed the statement by Roberts that “privacy comes at a cost.”

Meanwhile, there is another case in federal court in New York, which has Microsoft fighting a search warrant for customer communications stored in a data center located in Ireland.

“We’re convinced that the law and the U.S. Constitution are on our side, and we are committed to pursuing this case as far and as long as needed,” Smith added in an earlier blog post.

In fact, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York wants a “broad mandate for law enforcement to reach email in Ireland without informing the Irish Government or following the treaty put in place between our two governments,” Smith said, citing a brief from the prosecutor’s office.

“We think it’s a problem for governments to use a warrant to reach across international borders and search a person’s email without respecting local privacy laws,” Smith said.

In connection with that case, the Microsoft survey showed that 79 percent of respondents said the U.S. government should respect local privacy laws when searching people’s personal information, such as e-mail accounts. Also, 56 percent of those responding are concerned if the U.S. government goes after personal information in other nations without going through foreign governments, then other nations will force companies to turn over Americans’ private information.

Compare this recent event to Roberts’ decision in Riley, which said in part, “It is no exaggeration to say that many of the more than 90 percent of American adults who own a cell phone keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives—from the mundane to the intimate. …Certain types of data are also qualitatively different. An Internet search and browsing history, for example, can be found on an Internet-enabled phone and could reveal an individual’s private interests or concerns—perhaps a search for certain symptoms of disease, coupled with frequent visits to WebMD. Data on a cell phone can also reveal where a person has been. Historic location information is a standard feature on many smart phones and can reconstruct someone's specific movements down to the minute, not only around town but also within a particular building.”

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein is a veteran writer and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. A graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he has won several...

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