What Can Cops Look At On Your Phone Without A Warrant?

Ten years ago, most of us had little more on our mobile phones than other phone numbers. Then cames texts, photos, video, web pages, passwords, credit card info, and most importantly Sudoku scores. But how much of that should be readily available to police if you are believed to have run afoul of the law?

That was the question before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently, where lawyers for a man convicted on a drug-related charge argued that police had conducted an unlawful search when they looked through his cellphones (one on his person and two others in his truck) to check the phone number of each particular device.

The court disagreed, saying that merely checking the number of a phone found on a suspect is no different from searching a container that person might be carrying. The judge likened what the police did is the same as merely checking the inside cover of a diary to confirm the owner’s name or address, without looking at any interior pages.

“[W]hat happened in this case was similar but even less intrusive, since a cell phone’s phone number can be found without searching the phone’s contents, unless the phone is password protected–and on some cell phones even if it is,” wrote the judge.

He pointed out that it only took two button pushes for the officers in this case to locate the iPhone’s number and a single button push to do the same on the man’s Blackberry. The officers then used these phone numbers to subpoena call records from the wireless carriers.

So it appears that if you don’t want police looking at anything on your phone without a warrant, your best recourse is to make sure you use password protection, especially since a U.S. Circuit Court recently ruled that authorities could not compel someone to decrypt a file on his computer, saying it violated one’s Fifth Amendment rights.

Court Ruling Opens Phones To Warrantless Searches [Forbes.com via Slashgear.com]

Thanks to Harper for the tip!