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.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
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.
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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.