Warrant or No Warrant: Uncle Sam and Smartphone Privacy

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Last updated April 12, 2019

All over the USA, State supreme courts are trying to determine whether a police officer needs a warrant to search data stored on a person’s cell phone or smartphone.  So far, opinions are split.

This isn’t about eavesdropping or finding out who you’re talking to; this is more about checking things such as email, contacts, and personal calendars.  Smartphones are relatively new and therefore they’ve fallen into a gray area.  Let me explain below:

When the police want to search someone’s property, they have to convince a judge that they believe they will find incriminating evidence on that property; i.e., they need a search warrant to go in and look for something in particular.  However, when a person is arrested for something, the police have the right to go through their pockets, their wallets, their handbags, or whatever else the person has on them at the time.  These days, that often includes a smartphone.

The debate being held all across the country is where a smartphone falls – in the same category as a home (or property) and thus requires a search warrant or in the same category as a wallet, which means the police do not need a warrant to rummage.

However, it doesn’t stop there.  What about when the police obtain a warrant to come into your home to search for something specific?  Does that warrant give them the right to search your smartphone as well?

Where it stands now is still all up in the air; but laws will have to be made soon so that we all know where we stand.