By: Steven I. Friedland
In Fourth Amendment decisions, different concepts, facts and assumptions about reality are often tethered together by vocabulary and fact, creating a ‘Stickiness Principle.’ In particular, form and function historically were considered indistinguishable, not as separate factors. For example, “containers” carried things, “watches” told time, and “phones” were used to make voice calls. Advancing technology, though, began to fracture this identity and the broader Stickiness Principle.
In June 2014, Riley v. California and its companion case, United States v. Wurie, offered the Supreme Court an opportunity to begin untethering form and function and dismantling the Stickiness Principle. Riley presented the question of whether cell phone searches incident to a lawful arrest were constitutional. The Court, which had clung to pre-digital concepts such as physical trespass well into the twenty-first century, appeared ready to explore how technology is reshaping historically understood conceptions of privacy. From a broader perspective, the case offers an initial step in reconciling pre-digital rules based on outdated spatial conceptions of physical things with the changing realities of a technology driven world.
Cite: 14 Duke L. &