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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Court’s phone privacy ruling nice, but they know everything anyway

Published:

The Supreme Court stood up for privacy rights this week with a 9-0 ruling that said police can’t search your cellphone without a warrant.

I’m not sure what the biggest news was, though: Was it the fact the Supremes unanimously agreed on something, or the idea that they apparently believe privacy actually exists?

Think about it.

If you are at all active online, you gave up privacy a long time ago.

You share your credit card numbers every time you purchase something.

Your Social Security number is almost certainly floating in cyberspace.

You have shared your name, address, phone number (and now every place wants your cell number, too).

You have told them where you were born, your spouse’s name, the names of your children, and your pets.

You have probably filled out something that requires you to share how much money you make.

There is a good chance you have shared what kind of car you drive, your license plate, and your driver’s license number.

Oh, don’t forget your medical history. Or your employment history. Or your hobbies.

If you want to play one of those silly little Facebook games, the app will first ask for permission to “share” your friends’ list.

You have posted pictures of vacations, your kids, dog, cat, weddings, funerals, and graduations.

People know when you’re headed out of town, and when you’ll be back. They know when you’ve been out to party, or what TV show you watched when you stayed home.

They know all that because you shared it with the world.

You probably didn’t think anyone else was really watching when you posted that adorable video of Sassy the cat playing with the ball of yarn, but chances are you alerted cat food companies that you might like them to contact you.

Now, don’t get it twisted: The High Court’s ruling about privacy was a step in the right direction. Police argued that forcing officers to wait for a warrant hampered their ability to catch the bad guy, but Chief Justice John Roberts said anything cops might find on your phone “does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

The Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches was the foundation for the ruling.

And the fact is cellphones are, as the court noted, “microcomputers” with considerable storage power.

They are a treasure trove for police who want to go on a fishing expedition into your private life.

“Most people cannot lug around every piece of mail they have received for the past several months, every picture they have taken, or every book or article they have read — nor would they have any reason to attempt to do so,” Roberts wrote.

But all that information is on your phone and it fits in your pocket.

Should the fact that you probably shared much of that already with the world mean police can randomly comb through pictures of your Vegas birthday bash with impunity? Of course not.

What is implied in the court’s ruling is that a minor scrape with the law could turn into a personal nightmare because your private information was accessed by unscrupulous hands.

That’s why forcing police to obtain a warrant to look through your phone is a good thing.

Don’t be fooled, though. There’s nothing that says authorities can’t go on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site and piece together a pretty thorough picture of your life, and they don’t need a search warrant for that.

That’s because you already gave them one.

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