Madison concurs.
Madison concurs.

For those of us without children, the moment of most complete panic comes when you think you might have lost your cellphone. At least when you lose sight of your child, you are confident that the child does not contain all your financial information, your most mortifying recent Google searches (“think like a man too” “poop bandit”) and the number of someone identified only as “Weird Mike Turned And Untrustworthy.”

The moment when I think my cellphone is missing, all my fight-or-flight adrenaline kicks in. I look frantically around, like a deer caught in headlights who thinks she might have left an embarrassing browser window open. I pat down my entire outfit to see if there’s a hidden pocket where I stored it by mistake. I canvass the entire area, eyes darting wildly into every nook and corner. “Where is it?” I bellow. “Where is it? I just had it! WHERE IS IT?” I start to resemble that character Nicolas Cage plays in every movie.

“Don’t you have the cloud?” someone asks, timidly.

“Yes, but that’s not enough!”

“Isn’t it password protected?”

“No, you don’t understand!” I try to reason with the person. “A cellphone is like a vital organ that you can sometimes misplace. I need it, on certain days, more than I need my kidney. You can lose a kidney and survive. If I lose my phone and am without it for more than a few hours, I grow sallow, begin to wither and wander the streets with an absent look in my eye. It’s like losing my house! It’s like losing my memory!”

“I think you have a problem,” the other person says, as gently as she can, inching away.

But be that as it may, the Supreme Court is with me when it comes to the importance of these devices in our lives. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “A decade ago officers might have stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of Americans who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of their entire lives.”

He also noted, “First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information—an address, a note, a prescription, a bank statement, a video— that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, a cell phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. The sum of an individual’s private life can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions; the same cannot be said of a photograph or two of loved ones tucked into a wallet. Third, the data on a phone can date back to the purchase of the phone, or even earlier. A person might carry in his pocket a slip of paper reminding him to call Mr. Jones; he would not carry a record of all his communications with Mr. Jones for the past several months, as would routinely be kept on a phone.”

The ruling concluded: “Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life’  … The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple— get a warrant.”

Of course, what I usually use that phone for is to tell the entire Internet where I am, what I am eating, whom I am texting and what I’m thinking, in such a way as to make it completely searchable online forever.

But at least the cellphone’s protected.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.