WASHINGTON - Two Supreme Court cases about police searches of cellphones without warrants present vastly different views of the ubiquitous device.
Is it a critical tool for a criminal or is it an American's virtual home?
How the justices answer that question could determine the outcome of the cases being argued Tuesday. A drug dealer and a gang member want the court to rule that the searches of their cellphones after their arrest violated their right to privacy in the digital age.
The Obama administration and California, defending the searches, say cellphones are no different from anything else a person may be carrying when arrested. Police may search those items without a warrant under a line of high court cases reaching back 40 years.
What's more, said Donald Verrilli Jr., the administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, "Cellphones are now critical tools in the commission of crimes."
The cases come to the Supreme Court amid separate legal challenges to the massive warrantless collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency and the government's use of technology to track Americans' movements.