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Privacy Protection for Cell Phones – No Warrantless Searches

03.27.14

A court ruled that a “person retains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the contents of his cell phone when that phone is being temporarily stored in a jail property room,” and rejected the prosecutor’s claim “that a modern-day cell phone is like a pair of pants or a bag of groceries, for which a person loses all privacy protection once it is checked into a jail property room.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (court of last resort for criminal cases) ruled in Granville v State of Texas on February 26 2014 that “this is a case about rummaging through a citizen’s electronic private effects-a cell phone-without a warrant:”

The Fourth Amendment states that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.”

The term “papers and effects” obviously carried a different connotation in the late eighteenth century than it does today. No longer are they stored only in desks, cabinets, satchels, and folders.

Our most private information is now frequently stored in electronic devices such as computers, laptops, iPads, and cell phones, or in “the cloud” and accessible by those electronic devices.

But the “central concern underlying the Fourth Amendment” has remained the same throughout the centuries; it is “the concern about giving police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person’s private effects.”

Apparently courts continue to require warrants, which if issued will make available the contents of cell phones. However we continue to see cases like this where warrants are not secured.

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