In a case of great technological interest, on February 29, 2012, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Flores-Lopez held that searching a cell phone found on a defendant incident to an arrest is a permissble warrantless search.
In Flores-Lopez, the defendant was arrested for selling drugs. At the time of his arrest, an officer located and searched a cell phone in his possession for the purpose of determing the cell phone's number. Subsequently, the government used the cell phone number to subpoena three-months worth of defendant's cell phone records. After the defendant was convicted, the defendant appealed the conviction on the ground that the cell phone records were obtained via an impermissible search.
In upholding the conviction, the Court considered many factors including the nature of today's cell phone technology. For example, the Court noted that cell phones of today can be equipped with applications which allow a user to remotely wipe a cell phone of all of its data.
Although the search was deemed permissible, and thus the conviction upheld, the Court noted that not all searches of this kind would neccesarily be permissible. Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted that this search only yielded a cell phone number and the result may have been different had the government improperly obtained data, as opposed to just the cell phone number.