When can police search my cellphone?

August 4, 2022
When can police search my cellphone?

Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures certainly apply to cellphone phones and other electronic devices.

But how much privacy you can expect to have in data stored on those devices? In this post, we’ll discuss some of the scenarios of when cellphone searches are and aren’t allowed.

If you give them consent

If police ask for permission to search your mobile device and you give them consent, then they may do so without a warrant. You can revoke the consent at any time. Be careful, however, because by the time you revoke consent police may have already found damaging information.

If you have been arrested

In a 2014 case called Riley v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that police are generally not allowed to search digital information on a mobile phone taken from someone who has been arrested.

To be allowed to do such a search, police have to get a warrant. The case was a major victory for privacy rights in the digital age.

If police seek location data

Information on the phone itself is one thing. What about information about the phone’s location, which can be obtained from companies that provide cellphone service?

Here, too, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued an important decision in favor of privacy rights. Last year, in Carpenter v. U.S., the Supreme Court held that law enforcement generally needs a warrant to get cellphone location information.


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