U.S. Law Week: On The Merits adds a new dimension to U.S. Law Week's
coverage of courts, cases and legal issues. Using both new and
traditional media, we aim to provide visitors with accessible
information on the topics they care about.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
by Tom P. Taylor
A group of criminal law professors have come up with an easy
solution for balancing the need to protect evidence stored on an
arrestee's cell phone and the Fourth Amendment rights at issue in
Riley v. California and United States v.
The same material that protects my son's peanut butter and jelly
sandwich can also protect cell phones from being remotely "wiped"
before a search warrant can be obtained, the professors argue in a
March 7 amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The shiny wrap can act as a cheap stand in for what is known as
a "Faraday envelope"—aka "Faraday bag" or "Faraday cage"—that can
block electronic transmissions to and from a cell phone, the
But even true Faraday bags—currently used by law enforcement
agencies across the country—won't break the bank. The brief notes
that the top of the line envelope, complete with a clear window to
manipulate and examine the contents, is sold for $58, with basic
versions costing only $6.95 each.
But if police departments can't cough up $6.95, "they can have
officers create their own Faraday envelopes for mere pennies by
using aluminum foil sold in grocery stores," the professors tell
This example of metallurgic ingenuity is part of the professors'
larger point that the government's interest in protecting
information stored on a cell phone can be met without searching the
device at the time of an arrest.
"Rather than allowing warrantless searches of cell phones
incident to arrest, the Court should encourage law enforcement
officers to place cell phones in Faraday envelopes or aluminum foil
to prevent the remote wiping of data from the phone while officers
seek a warrant," the brief says.
After all, why allow officers to peak into a treasure trove of data
that could contain a "warehouse full of documents, pictures, and
GPS data," when protecting that information requires just a trip to
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