U.S. Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday praised a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down this week that requires police to obtain a warrant before searching most information on a suspect's cell phone, significantly strengthening Americans' digital privacy rights.
"The Supreme Court was absolutely right to recognize how invasive searches are of people's digital lives and that the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from this type of activity by our government," Paul said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
Paul, who is considering seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016, has made protection from government searches an important piece of his political platform.
In particular, he has led opposition in the Senate to the domestic surveillance programs of the National Security Agency.
Never miss a local story.
"This decision has a direct bearing on what the NSA is doing," Paul said of Wednesday's court ruling. "As our technology evolves, our Constitution endures, and I will continue to fight for these vital civil liberties."
Under the ruling, police must obtain a warrant before searching for evidence on cell phones, which can take anywhere from an hour to a day or more, depending on the circumstances and the availability of a judge. Previously, smartphones were often treated similarly to wallets and purses, which police often search when arresting someone.
Last month, Paul and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, co-wrote an opinion piece published by Politico that argued cell phone data would have been protected by the Founding Fathers.
Cell phones, said Paul and Coons, contain so much information that "they can present a pretty good picture of who you are, what you do, where you go, what you read and what you write."
The Supreme Court did recognize "exigent circumstances" under which it would be appropriate for police to search a phone without a warrant. For example, such a search would probably be acceptable if police have knowledge that someone might soon die if police don't get a phone number from the arrested, said Bob Lawson, a University of Kentucky law professor.
Fayette Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson said claims of exigent circumstances have not had much success in Fayette County courts, and advised police to seek legal advice before making an exigent circumstance claim.
"Officers must clearly be able to articulate exigent circumstances," Larson said.