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TELL US: Should Police be Able to Search Your Cellphone Without a Warrant?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled police don't need a search warrant to look at a cellphone's call list after arresting the phone's owner. As courts around the country grapple with the issue, tell us: is this 'reaso

What's the difference between personal information and correspondence you have physically stored in your home, and similar information that's on your cellphone? And what should police have access to without a warrant?

It's a question that courts across the nation are dealing with it and one that arose here in Massachusetts on Wednesday, when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police don't need a search warrant to look at the call list of a person's cellphone during while searching that person's personal property after an arrest.

However, in writing the court's opinion for Commonwealth vs. Demetrius A. Phifer, Justice Margot Botsford cited other court cases that raise questions about the extent that law enforcement officials can access information stored on a cellphone.

"Today's cellular telephones are essentially computers, capable of storing enormous quantities of information, personal, private, and otherwise, in many different forms," Botsford wrote. "They present novel and important questions about the relationship between the modern doctrine of search incident to arrest and individual privacy rights.

"Although an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy is diminished concerning his or her physical person when subject to a lawful arrest and taken into custody," she continued, "the same may not necessarily be true with respect to the privacy of the myriad types of information stored in a cellular telephone that he or she is carrying at the time of arrest."

The New York Times reported last month about divergent rulings in courts across the country regarding information stored on cellphones, such as a Rhode Island judge throwing out cellphone evidence obtained without a search warrant that led a man being charged with the murder of a 6-year-old boy.

A Washington court likened text messages to voice mail messages that can be overheard by anyone in a room, the Times reported, and ruled they are not protected by state privacy laws. But a federal appeals court in Louisiana is wrangling over whether location records stored in smartphones are private information or business records that belong to the phone companies.

Meanwhile, just last week the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that if passed would limit law enforcement officials' warrantless access to email, private Facebook posts and other information that's stored on the Internet. CNET.com reported that tech firms including Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter have urged Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986, "and preserve the same privacy rights that Americans enjoy if their files are printed out and stored in a cabinet at home."

What should police be able to search on a cellphone without a warrant? The call log? Emails and private Facebook or Twitter messages? GPS location data that track where the phone has been? Should it all be fair game, should it all require a search warrant, or is it a mix? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Dawn January 12, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Wake up people. Strangers have searched cell phones for bank numbers& other things. Why not the Police? They are not looking to steal! It's obviosly for good reasoning! Strangers or Police, take your choice.
Vineyard Worker January 12, 2013 at 10:30 PM
So you're saying, go ahead treat me like a criminal, whenever you wish because I did nothing wrong and after I have been violated I will be happy knowing that I made the police happy by making their job easier?
M C Stringfellow January 12, 2013 at 10:47 PM
You are one sick puppy. Lets just declare ourselves Communists and get on with our lives. Oh, forgot, we no longer can call it our lives, we're Communists. Government owns us. NOT WITH OUT A WARRANT CAN THEY SEARCH AND MUST SHOW JUST CAUSE.
Anna Bucciarelli January 14, 2013 at 05:19 PM
You are far too trusting Dawn ... most policemen ARE strangers to begin with. Joe Pacquette got it right, "no search, no way, no how period end of subject."
LCT January 20, 2013 at 08:43 AM
So the consensus of the posters here don't think it's OK to have warrantless searches? Interesting as I see some of the same people posting here who don't give a fig about my 2nd Amendment rights are now concerned about their 4th Amendment rights. It's evidently OK to pick & choose which Amendment can be trampled? It's all or nothing folks. That's how our government works. Which Amendment shall we attack next? If the lame street media ever decides to do their job, stop cheerleading for POTUS & starts doing real reporting minus the liberal bias, you can be your life the next Amendment under fire will be the 1st Amendment. How many rights & liberties are you willing to give up before we smarten up & pay attention?

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