Monday, November 26, 2012

Cell Phones - Subject to Warrantless Search?

Two years or so ago, I wrote a series of posts about the split in the circuits on an issue of privacy - in that case, GPS surveillance.  (Posts are here, here, and here.)

There is a new issue coming up, which undoubtedly will find its way to the Supreme Court before too long: cell phones.  Circuits (and even courts within the same circuit) have divided on the question of how much privacy it is reasonable to expect where your cell phone is concerned.  The New York Times recently published an article on the issue, which highlights some of the divisions.

For now, courts are trying to apply the 1986 Electronic Communications Act to cell phones, but it's not working too well; technology (and our dependence on our phones) has advanced far ahead of the scope of the law.  A Senate committee will convene this week to consider changes to the law.

As cell phones become more important in our daily lives, they will surely be a go-to source for police officers or investigators looking for information.  But how much access are they allowed without a search warrant?  Voice mails?  Text messages?  Your recorded GPS location?  What if you have your phone screen locked?  Does that give you added protection for your data?  Does the phone company have to alert you if your records are subpoenaed?

No definitive answers yet, but time will tell.

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