28 Jun

Is that the government in your pocket, or are you just glad to see the Constitution?

At the start of the 20th Century, the Supreme Court wrestled with the question of whether the “Constitution follows the flag” – whether it applied to foreign parts such as the Philippines that the United States had just taken over.

At the start of the 21st Century, the justices are pursuing the Constitution into even more alien territory: the digital dimension. This week, the court unanimously ruled that police needed a specific warrant to explore the cellphone in the possession of a person of interest.

Police can still ask someone they’ve stopped to turn out his pockets; they just can’t ask him to turn on his smartphone. A cellphone, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the court, “collects in one place many distinct types of information — an address, a note, a prescription, a bank statement, a video — that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record.”

In other words, looking through your cellphone is less a pat-down than a cellular colonoscopy.

Your digital presence is you; you are what you tweet.

And in a world where, as Roberts noted, people average 33 apps on their phone, your phone can say as much about you as you can. It only makes sense to let your phone take the Fifth.

Going through your cellphone – with its messages, its files, its photos, its iTunes, its calendar, its speed dials – is like rummaging through your house, and we do have a constitutional doctrine that covers that.

As the Supreme Court has rightly reminded us, your cellphone is your castle.

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