Cell Phone Cannot be Searched Without Warrant, Unless You Consent

You may not have given it much thought but some people store much about their life in their cell phones, like pictures, documents and emails. It has already been established by the Supreme Court that we have Constitutional protections to the contents of our cell phone and no one can see those contents, unless you give consent to search your cell phone.

If law enforcement wants to see the contents of your cell phone, they have to get a search warrant from a magistrate (judge) who will issue the warrant only if he/she is satisfied that their sworn affidavit contains probable cause (legal proof) to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in a specific area of that phone. If law enforcement just has a suspicion that evidence will be found in the cell phone, the search warrant will NOT be issued. In other words, your smartphone cell is almost like your mobile castle with contents that have digital privacy rights that are constitutionally protected.

Now some email providers have taken it upon themselves to investigate some emails that they have set aside for law enforcement. Remember, those email providers are not law enforcement so they are not prohibited by the Constitutional protections of their subscribers. That end-run around the Constitution worked for the email providers initially in the federal district court that heard the dispute whether the subscriber’s constitutional rights were violated. The federal district court said the email providers were not part of government so no Constitutional rights were violated.

On appeal, the federal appellate court overturned that decision and held that when the suspect emails were turned over to law enforcement, the act of opening up those emails by law enforcement constituted a search for which law enforcement needed a search warrant. Without a search warrant, reviewing the emails was an illegal search that violated the subscriber’s Fourth Amendment Constitutional protections.

This was the latest important ruling on digital privacy rights that may be of interest to anyone who stores tax-related information in their cell phone.