by Lucy Sundelson*
The Supreme Court has long held that under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, “warrantless searches are per se unreasonable,” except in a few limited circumstances.1 One exception to the rule is the automobile exception, which allows police to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle and its contents with probable cause. Over time, the automobile exception has expanded beyond its original purpose, allowing police to search cars and their contents indiscriminately, and its modern application threatens to swallow the warrant requirement altogether. Computer technology offers an opportunity for courts to limit the breadth of the automobile exception and ensure it remains faithful to the purpose of the Fourth Amendment: given the profoundly private information computers and cell phones store, courts must hold that the exception does not extend to such devices. While the Court has not ruled directly on this issue, two recent decisions dealing with other exceptions to the warrant requirement make clear that the Justices agree electronic data must be handled differently than other belongings in the Fourth Amendment context. Courts should use these decisions to prohibit the warrantless search of cell phones and other similar electronic devices, even when they are found within cars.