If you’re like most people who carry a smart phone, you have a lot of data accessible on there. You might bank from your phone, email, schedule your day, not to mention keep in contact with everyone you know, Tweet, and update your Facebook status. In other words, your phone is not just a source of calls—it’s a virtual computer. And it’s this wealth of information that helped the Florida Supreme Court determine that police can’t search through your phone randomly, at least not unless they can get a warrant.
According to the Miami Herald, the ruling is a major one in terms of civil liberties and privacy protections.
“What the court is doing is standing up for what little privacy is left in America by saying police don’t have the right to invade our whole life without the authorization of the courts first,” said a spokesman for the ACLU of Florida.
Typically, when an officer executes a warrantless arrest, he can rummage through your purse or your glove box. This is done under the assumption that there could be a weapon within your reach. Though smartphones are pretty amazing, as of yet, there are no weaponry apps, so the warrantless search of a cell phone simply isn’t justified.
Critics of the ruling don’t agree. Police officials say they believe evidence will be lost. What they are failing to grasp, however, is that the police may have justification for seizing the cell phone to prevent the owner deleting files while they await the warrant necessary to look inside the contents of the phone.
“The police do not have the right to rummage through a person’s entire life,’’ said Howard Simon of the ACLU. “It has nothing to do with protecting criminals. People still have a right to privacy even if police may have a legitimate reason for looking through your phone.’’
Law enforcement has nothing to worry about if their desire to search your phone is justifiable. If it is, a judge should have no problem with signing a warrant. Their reluctance to embrace the ruling is based in the fact that they don’t want to be bound by such rules. They want to exercise their power without having to jump through hoops. Fortunately, as the court saw, these hoops are constitutional rights and jumping through them is a necessary obligation.
Whether it’s your cell phone or your back seat, your pockets or your home, the police are bound by certain rules when it comes to executing searches without a warrant. When those rules are disregarded, the evidence found could be ruled inadmissible in court. This protection against unreasonable searches and seizures has been the crux of many defense arguments.