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BC Expert: Cell phones & the 4th Amendment

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Robert Bloom

Robert Bloom
Professor, Law School
(617) 552-4374 (o)
(617) 894 1781 (cell)
(617) 527-2910 (h)

Professor Robert Bloom has been widely quoted by national and local media outlets on a number of high profile cases, particularly the James “Whitey” Bulger case. He specializes in constitutional law; criminal procedure; civil procedure; court system; police abuse; police use of informants; Fourth Amendment; police interrogation; judges and jurors. A former civil rights attorney and assistant district attorney, Professor Bloom is the author of numerous books and articles including: Ratting: The Use and Abuse of Informants in the American Justice System and Criminal Procedure. Professor Bloom co-wrote Moore's Federal Practice, a major treatise on federal civil practice; Criminal Procedure; The Constitution and the Police (7th ed); Jury trial in Japan; and most recently "The Fourth Amendment Fetches Fido; Dog Sniffs and the Fourth Amendment."


APRIL 28, 2014

For more than two centuries, rights against unreasonable search and seizure have been protected by the Fourth Amendment but now the Supreme Court is faced with the question of whether a suspect’s cell phone can be searched, and if so, how much information is fair game?

“A cell phone is a tremendous repository of personal effects - you can look at one’s whole life,” says Boston College Law Professor Robert Bloom, a former prosecutor.  “If the 20th century was a time that the court dealt with issues relating to automobiles, the 21st century is going to deal with issues relating to technology and how the Fourth Amendment deals with these issues. Obviously our founding ancestors weren’t thinking about cell phones."

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear two cases regarding prosecutions that were built after the cell phones of the two suspects were searched by police. While a 1973 Supreme Court case allows police to search for weapons and allows them to gather evidenced that could be destroyed by a suspect, the search of a cell phone goes into unchartered territory. 

“If police get a warrant, can they search the entire phone or can they just search the contact information, or can they search the locational information?,” wonders Bloom, an expert on the Fourth Amendment who wrote, “The Fourth Amendment Fetches Fido: New Approaches to Dog Sniffs” for the Wake Forest Law Review (2013). What exactly can they search? Can they read emails? Can they look at pictures? How far can they go once they open a cell phone?” 

This is the second technological case being looked at by the high court. The first case was a 2011 GPS case where the justices found the tracking device yielded too much information.

“The cell phone search is as intrusive as a home search because the Fourth Amendment talks about personal effects,” says Bloom. “And this is a huge personal effect because we’re learning about somebody’s whole life from a cell phone.”




 Media Note:

Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html


Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College
(617) 552-3630 (office)
(617) 943-4323 (cell)