What’s the difference between a pack of cigarettes and a smartphone? According to the majority opinion of the California Supreme Court, nothing. The state’s highest legal body ruled that officers can search an arrestee’s cell phone on site, without a warrant. The majority used precedent and pointed to rulings in the 70s that allowed officers to search cigarette packs and other items and crevices which could contain evidence. Of course, we know that you can’t carry in a cell phone what you can carry in a pack of cigarettes. So how is this a just ruling? The decision actually runs counter to two previous instances, one in Ohio and the other in California, where courts ruled that searches of cell phones after an officer made an arrest, but before he obtained a warrant, was a violation of the defendant’s rights. That could lead the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, though that’s complete speculation. The issue really boils down to the information stored on cell phones. True, there might be some incriminating evidence present, and that might help the case for prosecutors. But in that case officers should simply seek a warrant. If there is no incriminating evidence, though, and an officer can browse through an arrestee’s cell phone at will, he can obtain information not meant for him and not relevant to that case. If such evidence is wrongfully seized it can be expunged. But the information cannot be as easily forgotten. More than anything, this case brings forth the issue of our privacy and security. We assume that the contents of our cell phone are private, but that’s clearly not the case. What should and shouldn’t be private on a phone? Should an arrestee be compelled to unlock a locked phone, even if there is no warrant? We can continue asking a slew of questions. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and it doesn’t appear that our highest legal bodies have much interest in examining them. The best move now is to lock your cell phone and refuse to unlock it without a warrant. That might mean some ill treatment down at the station, but it will also help protect your rights. Not that you’d ever find yourself in such a situation.