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Police Can Search Your Phone Without a Warrant

Police Can Search Your Phone Without a Warrant

Police officers can’t just come into your home and start searching through your belongings without a warrant, but that same protection does not extend to your cellphone, apparently. As Mother Jones reports, in most states, cops are permitted to start reading your text messages and other personal information on your phone at their discretion, Fourth Amendment protections and privacy rights be damned.

Currently, police who apprehend someone for even the pettiest of crimes (jaywalking, for example) believe they are entitled to then search the phone that was in the arrestee’s pocket. Presumably, the hope is that the phone will contain incriminating information that may lead to larger charges.

Considering that most Americans carry their phones on their person at all times, this precedent is frightening. Moreover, as technology rapidly advances, smartphones now store an increasing amount of personal information. Beyond text messages and call logs, many people now keep email, Facebook and Twitter accounts on their phones as well. It’s the type of information we’d expect police to obtain a warrant before searching, and that procedure shouldn’t be ignored just because it’s now available on a cellphone.

If you think a password lock will keep your content secure, think again. Major phone manufacturers will generally help police officers with tricks to get around the passcodes. It’s no surprise, bearing in mind that the same companies already collude with law enforcement authorities to turn your cellphone into a tracking device.

Thus far, only Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio and Rhode Island have banned unwarranted police searches of cellphones for being unconstitutional. Out of the remaining 44 states, about half have ruled in favor of these searches, while the other half has not yet had the practice challenged in the court.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court may take on the issue in its next session. Currently, the nation’s highest court is considering hearing two cases (though they’ll likely only choose one) in which an arrested person’s phone was searched without a warrant to subsequently tie the person to larger crimes.

The Obama administration has made itself clear on this issue: it believes police should have the right to conduct these searches. Of course, that’s to be expected from a team that has thrown its full support to similar mass warrantless searches performed by the NSA. In the police’s case, however, information collected would not (purportedly) be restricted to track terrorists.

The NSA is actually incredibly important to keep in mind in relation to this topic. To the best of our knowledge, the NSA is already collecting all of that information available on your cellphone without a warrant. As it stands, however, the United States allegedly uses that content solely for the purpose of terrorism and national security, not thwarting other crimes.

However, say NSA employees were to tip off local police authorities with the information they were obtaining… perhaps the police could then arrest the suspects on minor or fabricated charges and use that opportunity to search the cellphone. Magically, the police could discover the incriminating information that they knew would be on the phone all along and legally use it as evidence to convict that person. Suddenly, all of that warrantless tracking wouldn’t be as “innocent” as authorities would want you to believe.

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105 comments

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3:05PM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

It's still an invasion of privacy in my opinion. Unless you are arrested for murder, robbery, or drug dealing, searching your cell phone should not be allowed.

8:07PM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

Creepy creepy world we live in.

9:57AM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

Be my guest. There's nothing really interesting on my cellphone.

3:29AM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

thanks

12:40PM PDT on Sep 23, 2013

Why does anyone talk to David F? Can you not learn by experience that he has nothing worth listening to?

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice,...."

He has fooled us how many times now?

7:12AM PDT on Sep 23, 2013

Boy, even when copying from an article you just forget to include things. "The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect Americans from being searched by police without a warrant—but there are exceptions, one of which kicks in as soon as you get arrested. If you've got cuffs on, even if you did nothing wrong, your rights now fall under the "Search Incident to Lawful Arrest Doctrine." That means that the cop arresting you doesn't need a warrant to search anything in close proximity to your body. The reason this exception exists is to keep law enforcement officers safe—say, if a suspect has a cigarette pack inside his shirt that could be mistaken for a gun—and to stop suspects from destroying evidence on the scene of the crime (like this alleged bank robber, who appears to be eating his hold-up note).

A court ruled in the 1970s that an item—in this particular case, a footlocker in a car trunk that contained marijuana—couldn't be searched without a warrant once it had been taken away from the scene of the arrest. But as the Electronic Freedom Foundation notes, there still isn't a decisive ruling as to whether this applies to smartphones. The way the law stands now in most states, police can take your cellphone, read your messages, and even copy data for a search later, citing the fact that you may be able to delete it remotely."

Actually, they have to check in 90 minutes, otherwise they need a warrant.

I certainly hope Care2 doesn't pay you for t

11:44PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

Scary situation, isn't it?

10:23PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

David F That's why we have more people incarcerated than any nation on earth. Many for non violent drug offenses. Marijuana should be legal and we should not ruin people's lives and incarcerate them for a for a harmless plant. The police just happen to enforce these laws. Ask the the black, and Hispanic people in NYC how they feel about getting slammed against a car, and searched for nothing in the humiliating stop and frisk policy. Even if 100% of all cops are honest, which is not true, the fact that they enforce unjust laws makes them guilty of aiding and abetting corruption. How many people are sitting in prison right now, their lives ruined with criminal records for life, for small time possession of marijuana. Ask them how they feel about cops.

7:58PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

Endless, hateful and liberal Care 2 Bigots incorporate our police force into criminals themselves while 99% are honest, caring individuals that routinely risk their own lives to protect folks they do not know, even the raciest like Brian F

6:03PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

The police have become the paid thugs who have every right to arrest you for anything they think you are doing wrong. Just do what your told and slave away at your $7.25 an hour minimum wage job, while your corporate master makes $11,000 an hour off your back. If you get pulled over on your drive home for anything, the police will search your cell phone. If they find a suspicious E-male on your phone, then your going to jail. The real America is a police state, and the government wants absolute control over you to keep you down, and poor, while they make millions fleecing the country.

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