Court Confirms Police Don't Need A Warrant To Do A Limited Search Of A Mobile Phone

from the lock-it-down dept

In a court ruling that came out a little while ago (just catching up now), Judge Richard Posner took the lead in an appeals court ruling that effectively reaffirmed the idea that police don't need a warrant to search mobile phones as they're arresting someone. Of course, this general concept is not new and I've discussed my concerns about police being able to search phones without a warrant in the past -- but this particular ruling does seem pretty limited. While Posner notes some of the bigger questions, he basically compares the phone to a diary, and focuses on the mere searching of basic data, like the address book, to suggest this particular search was limited, and doesn't raise any significant 4th amendment issue.
It’s not even clear that we need a rule of law specific to cell phones or other computers. If police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy the owner’s address, they should be entitled to turn on a cell phone to learn its number. If allowed to leaf through a pocket address book, as they are, United States v. Rodriguez, 995 F.2d 776, 778 (7th Cir. 1993), they should be entitled to read the address book in a cell phone. If forbidden to peruse love letters recognized as such found wedged between the pages of the address book, they should be forbidden to read love letters in the files of a cell phone.
Effectively, the court more or less says that circumstances matter, and that in situations where there's a chance that data will get deleted or modified, it's perfectly reasonable to do a simple search of the mobile phone, but it could get thornier if it moves more in the direction of voyeurism, rather than as evidence for crimes. I'd certainly prefer much stronger privacy protections -- especially as a phone really is a window into much, much more than just a phone, but the ruling isn't much of a surprise and seems to align with other rulings on similar issues.

Filed Under: mobile phones, police, search, warrant


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  1. icon
    Austin (profile), 9 Mar 2012 @ 9:13am

    No. Fucking No. Just No.

    You wanna know my problem with this? Math.

    Number of people who have committed terrorist acts, both foreign and domestic, including in war zones such as Iraq, since 2001: less than 8,000. Note that this is a very GENEROUS estimate, based on the Pentagon's PR data. Internal DOD data (posed on Wikileaks) puts this closer to 3,000.

    Number of people who's private information, as a result of being stored in a "secure government database" has been leaked to the public as a result of Anon and Wikileaks alone: over 80,000. This is from a single hack alone, actually, of which there have been several dozen since 2006.

    Sorry, but no, you can NOT have access to this data, because you can NOT be trusted to keep it secure. If that means 50% more terrorists get through, fine, I live in middle-of-nowhere, Alabama and don't give a flying shit if 5 civilians in a metropolitan area die at the hands of a raging lunatic. I can live with that. What I cannot live with is me, those 5 poor bastards, and the other 357,000,000+ Americans being subjected to the police-state-of-the-month so that we MIGHT, MAYBE, POSSIBLY, KINDA, SORTA stop the raging lunatic from doing what he's probably gonna do, and get away with, regardless. What is private is PRIVATE and I do NOT trust the government (and the lowest bidder) to keep it that way, even if they do try to.

    In the words of Benjamin Franklin (yanno, one of those "founding fathers" people keep throwing around so much) "He who would sacrifice liberty for security deserves neither." I don't know about the rest of the witless-idiot American public, but I would NEVER sacrifice my rights, my fellow citizen's rights, nor the lives of over 5,000 soldiers, just so I could save a few dozen civilians who, frankly, if they'd pay more attention to the world around them instead of burying their nose in their iPhone, could've probably saved themselves.

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