Technological Challenges

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

Technological advances can present unique challenges to legal procedures. Law enforcement increasingly relies on technology to gather evidence, leading to new legal questions. This section explores landmark Supreme Court cases addressing these issues.

Katz v. United States (1967)

Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), is a foundational case concerning technology and privacy. Law enforcement used a listening device attached to a public phone booth to gather evidence on Katz’s illegal gambling operations. The Supreme Court ruled this constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, extending privacy rights to include “people, not places.” This means privacy rights apply wherever people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including communications (Katz, 1967).

Kyllo v. United States (2001)

In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), law enforcement used thermal imaging technology to detect heat from marijuana grow lights inside Kyllo’s home. The Supreme Court held that using a device not in general public use, like the thermal imager, to explore details of a home previously unknown without physical intrusion constitutes a search (Kyllo, 2001).

Riley v. California (2014)

The Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014), case dealt with cell phones. Law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of Riley’s cell phone during an arrest. The court unanimously held that officers must generally secure a warrant before conducting a search of data on a mobile phone seized from an individual who has been arrested (Riley, 2014).


The advent of new technologies constantly challenges our understanding of search and seizure law. From eavesdropping devices to thermal imaging to cell phone data, the Supreme Court has had to adapt Fourth Amendment protections to encompass these advancements, as shown in Katz (1967), Kyllo (2001), and Riley (2014).

Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/17/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License



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