Supreme Court Cellphone Ruling Protects Health Data

Supreme CourtArticle by Healthcare DIVE


  • The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that cellphone searches done by law enforcement officials without a warrant are unconstitutional,  partly because the phones might carry personal health data.
  • In the opinion, the court held that cell phones differ from other evidence collected by law enforcement searches done of personal items such as wallets, cars and purses.
  • Cellphones, the court said, are different than these other items because, for example, they might include Web search and browsing history that could reveal an individual’s private concerns, such as searches for certain disease symptoms coupled with visits to WebMD.


This decision is likely to have broader implications in the healthcare industry, experts say. For one thing, the ruling could become a guide for healthcare stakeholders as they grapple with problems regarding who has the right to give consent to access patients’ medical records. It could also affect discussions currently underway within HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration regarding privacy protection adjustments to help with sharing substance misuse data. Generally speaking, the ruling establishes a precedent for the government having a strong stake in protecting patient privacy, privacy lawyer Adam Greene of Davis Wright Tremaine told Modern Healthcare.

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