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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether police can search an arrested criminal suspect's cell phone without a warrant in two cases that showcase how the courts are wrestling to keep up with rapid technological advances.

Taking up cases from California and Massachusetts arising from criminal prosecutions that used evidence obtained without a warrant, the high court will wade into how to apply older court precedent, which allows police to search items carried by a defendant at the time of arrest, to cell phones.

Cell phones have evolved from devices used exclusively to make calls into gadgets that now contain a bounty of personal information about the owner.

The legal question before the justices is whether a search for such information after a defendant is arrested violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans unreasonable searches. The outcome would determine whether prosecutors in such circumstances could submit evidence gleaned from cell phones in court.

Stanford Law School professor Jeffrey Fisher, who represents one of the defendants, said in court papers that it was important for the high court to decide the issue.

"In light of the frequency with which people are arrested with cell phones and the judiciary's confusion over whether the police may search the digital contents of those phones, this court's intervention is critical," Fisher said.

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