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MA high court: no privacy in recent call list

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police do not need a warrant to search the cell phone call history of a person arrested in connection with a crime. The court ruled that police have long been allowed under the Constitution to search for evidence of a crime on the person and their belongings when the person is in custody.

“The limited search of the recent call list on the defendant’s cellular telephone was permissible under both the Fourth Amendment and [Article 14]’’ of the state’s Declaration of Rights...” The list of calls made from a cell phone therefore has no expectation of privacy in that setting.

The court specifically left open the question of whether, if the phone seized had capabilities of storing text messages, emails, browser histories and photographs, those data troves are also searchable without a warrant: “We do not suggest that the assessment necessarily would be the same on different facts, or in relation to a different type of intrusion into a more complex cellular telephone or other information storage device.’’

Other state courts have gone the other way on this question and a Supreme Court ruling will be needed to clarify the growing murk. The Mass. case is COMMONWEALTH vs. Demetrius A. PHIFER. SJC-11242 and full text is found