Cell phones have grown to be an extension of our body, a depository for all things that define us and a device that easily keeps a record of everything we get our noses into. If someone, especially a complete stranger, picked up your phone without your permission and started nosing around in your pictures, text messages or emails, you would certainly feel violated. Any person with a sense of privacy or common knowledge of the U.S. Constitution would.

A report from CNN yesterday states that depending on your state and how its officials feel about cell phones and the Fourth Amendment, police may have the ability to search your phone without a warrant. According to a California Supreme Court decision in January, it is perfectly legal for law enforcement to – without a warrant, mind you – search the cell phone of someone they have arrested. Similar decisions were upheld in both Florida and Georgia appellate court decisions. On the other hand, residents in Ohio are much more lucky in that a court case ruling has deemed unwarranted searches of cell phones unconstitutional.

I hate to sound like some delusional, paranoid crackpot theorist, but this is only the beginning. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan spoke out against the Michigan State Police, in fear that they were violating the Fourth Amendment. MSP has reportedly been using a device that extracts information of phones.

The device is a Cellebrite UFED (not all that different from what carrier stores use to transfer data between phones), which can allegedly extract all pictures, videos, text messages, emails, GPS locations and mountains of other data from your phone. All of this is said to take roughly 90 seconds and it can even extract deleted data to some degree. According to the Cellebrite website, the UFED device has over 3,000 phones in its repository and it can bypass passwords, if need be.

MSP are claiming to only use the devices when a search warrant is issued or with the consent of the owner. That said, ACLU has requested reports and an explanation of how and when the devices are used. In short, Michigan State Police have hardly cooperated. According to a statement from ACLU, the cost of retrieving these documents would amount to $544,680. To retrieve a single document, ALCU states that Michigan State Police are asking for $272,340. That seems a bit high, no?

There are also some tales floating around the Internet, albeit few, of people having their personal device violated without cause or warrant.

Personally, I don't know which to believe. And quite honestly, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that this will be an insurmountable issue in the coming months and years as cell phones continue to gain attention worldwide. Smartphones can now do more than ever before, which means we will use them to do more; a record of what we do and where we go is stored on the device. Should the occasion arise, evidence of such could turn a court case that might last months into an open-and-shut case that ends before McDonald's stops serving breakfast.

Even though I don't partake in any illegal or shady activity, if I did, surely no evidence of it would ever knowingly be kept on my phone. Regardless, any unwarranted search of my phone would still leave me feeling violated and eaten alive by nerves. No law enforcement would search my home or car without a warrant or my consent. Why should my phone be considered any different?

As a helpful tip, Amy Gahran of CNN suggests that you should always keep your phone password protected, especially if you're concerned about police or even a nosey neighbor getting into your phone. Despite taking the extra precaution, some extraction methods bypass passwords and law enforcement could simply ask you to unlock your phone; "...but they almost certainly cannot compel you to unlock your phone without the involvement of a judge," says Catherine Crump of the ALCU.

How do you feel about the subject? Should law enforcement need a warrant to search your phone? Or is an unwarranted search of your cell phone perfectly constitutional?

Image via Cellebrite

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84 Reactions to this post

"Should law enforcement need a warrant to search your cell phone?"

Please limit your reaction to 140 characters or use comments for a longer reply :)
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Landon Empey
Landon Empey no becuz if it came down to something like that if ur innocent, u have nothing to hide
Facebook user
Facebook user Unbelieveable.
Brian Richards
Brian Richards Yes
Kevin A Faaborg
Kevin A Faaborg They should always have one because some things like talking or texting on phone can be taken out of context like when having bluetooth headsets. My Android has an option to do all of the above handsfree, but it could be treated otherwise. Plus there are times where the contents of your device is not related to a crime. After all, sometimes getting your address book and you know someone who has gotten in trouble, may put you under the magnifying glass, even if you are innocent.
Jawwad Ul Haq
Jawwad Ul Haq yea should be same like checking the house/office with personal belongings
Justin Cartier
Justin Cartier YES!!!!!!!
Anonymous Absolutely yes
Thomas A. Kautz
Thomas A. Kautz Hell yes it is your personal property!!!
Ruben Jaramillo
Ruben Jaramillo They aint gettin a peek of all my girly girls fo free lol
Mark Joseph Cruz
Mark Joseph Cruz Most definately
Optional Guzman
Optional Guzman Theyll get my cell phone from my cold dead hands!!
Danny Salazar
Danny Salazar I have nothing to hide either, but that doesn't mean they can search my phone. If im a suspect, they can get the proper warrant. Its amazing how many people will give up their freedoms because they aren't criminals. If you aren't a criminal, then why do you allow yourself to be treated as one??
Marcus Bröker
Marcus Bröker Probable cause does not constitute an search. Probable cause is needed to get a SEARCH WARRANT
Ed Covert
Ed Covert Definitely should need a warrant. For the people saying "I've done nothing wrong, search what you want.", I have a question for you. Where do you draw the line? If you have nothing to hide then random strip searches for walking down the street should be ok right? Or maybe random home searches for contraband? I'm starting to think the slogan "To punish and enslave" on the side of Barricade was a bit more prophetic than humorous.
Marcus Bröker
Marcus Bröker As per the US Constitution, yes. You have a right from the protection of unlawful searches and seizures. And that it is only permissible if the search is consensual or a search warrant is provided.
Sunny Patel
Sunny Patel No, like others I have personnel information that only myself should see
Dominique House
Dominique House Yes they should, I might have photos of my wife only I should see or personal text, information, etc......
Martin Estrada
Martin Estrada Yes most definitely
Jerimiah Reece
Jerimiah Reece Legally, a search incident to arrest is Constitutional. Searching a cell phone is not much different than searching a phone/contact book or photo albums you had on your person. It's just digital instead of paper based. However, should you password protect the phone they cannot force you to unlock it without a warrant. It's no different than searching a backpack, which is a device used to store other items. I see absolutely nothing extraordinary about phone searches.
Flako Ramirez
Flako Ramirez Nope cause thats none of their business
Nick Kalman
Nick Kalman Put password on it and let them have it. Either they'll put password too many times and will erase everything on it or you can remotely erase it if they took it away from you. I have nothing to hide on my phone but I hate when someone goes through my stuff. If police wants to see time on messages or phone calls I can show it to them from my hands but without giving them my phone.
Nick Fortunato
Nick Fortunato Please stick to phone reviews and stay out of politics ......!!!!
Nick Fortunato
Nick Fortunato They do you dope!!!!!
Taylor Christian Francis Ogletree
Taylor Christian Francis Ogletree Absolutely, no question.
Johanna Jenny Finley Thornton
Johanna Jenny Finley Thornton Yes that's like ur house or purse......
Brent Williams
Brent Williams Dislike! (via http://digsby.com/fb)
David Bomar
David Bomar @Dominick I agree with u also.. just like they need a warrant to get ur phone records from ur carrier. They she need one if u seriously break the law other wise.. if u think I'm texting while driving write a ticked an ill bring proof to court that I wasn't from my phone company.
Dominick Pizzullo
Dominick Pizzullo @ Luis I agree with you 100%. "without probable cause" Is the most important phrase in this fun debate. If a cop suspects destracted driving that is probable cause. otherwise standard search procedures apply including need for warrant.
Jessie Dakota Welburn
Jessie Dakota Welburn Yes!!
Richard Levasseur
Richard Levasseur With out a doubt yes, your car, your home is personal property so is your phone so yes .....
Ryan Hunter
Ryan Hunter Yes, definitely
Darryl Mouzone
Darryl Mouzone I say yes. I don't get into trouble and I don't have anything to hide so if law enforcement wanted to search my phone it wouldn't bother me at all. And also it does depend on the situation but I say yes. If it's going get some criminal off the streets and in jail where they belong I say yes.
Ravin Schmidt
Ravin Schmidt Depends on the suspected crime. But my overall answer is yes
Richard Canales
Richard Canales Absolutely they should need a warrant. Wouldn't they need a warrant to search through your computer?
Stephen M. Knipe II
Stephen M. Knipe II Yes
Bostons TopAngel
Bostons TopAngel my cell phone is a very private thing for me... they need a warrant to search ur home, ur car, y not ur phone????
Mike Mota
Mike Mota The "you have nothing to hide" argument is one of the stupidest Ive heard. I don't, but I don't want a cop looking at my stuff. Anything with a password is meant to be for my eyes only.
Luis Ortiz
Luis Ortiz @ Dwight amen!
Luis Ortiz
Luis Ortiz @Dominick Never said they that texting while driving is an essential liberty.. But any search without probable cause is unconstitutional.
Steven William Oestreich
Steven William Oestreich Yes. Because here at my high-school the assistant principal looks through your phone if you get it taken away.
Nick Koval
Nick Koval Yeah its your property
Dwight L. Burton
Dwight L. Burton Yes. Why ask that? Of fucking course they should need a warrant.
Patrick Do
Patrick Do Yes. Its our privacy our right to our persons and property. And anyways FBI are on the case of looking through and scanning our phones for terrorism.
Alen Milinkovic
Alen Milinkovic Yes
Mychael Rendón
Mychael Rendón yees
Dominick Pizzullo
Dominick Pizzullo @ luis, You have a very valid point and it is well written, However texting while driving is not an "Essential Liberty."
Greg Smart
Greg Smart HELL YEA if u buy a phone you can do with it what you please you bought it, it's yours
Ernesto Estrada
Ernesto Estrada yes
Brandon Ethington
Brandon Ethington of course
Gabriel Fernandez
Gabriel Fernandez Yes
Dominick Pizzullo
Dominick Pizzullo They should only be aloud to look at text and call times and only if they suspect it was the cause of an auto accident where there were serious injuries. DESTRACTED DRIVING KILLS!
Devon Davis
Devon Davis Yes!
Eileen Felthoven
Eileen Felthoven I don't even like it when a friend starts looking through my messages... rude! It is personal property and private information so it should need a warrant. I haven't done anything wrong, so I don't care if the police look, but that is with my permission first. This is no different than tapping your home phone.... you need warrents for that too.
Stephen Wagner
Stephen Wagner You shouldn't be hiding anything so no.
Debbie Shannon
Debbie Shannon Yes
Alexx Plotsker
Alexx Plotsker Yes
Luis Ortiz
Luis Ortiz Yes!!!!! They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety,deserve neither liberty nor safety.- Benjamin Franklin
Aaron Hemphill
Aaron Hemphill I really hate that "if you've got nothing to hide" nonsense. You gotta remember cops do and will make stuff up and plant evidence.
Patrick Geiger
Patrick Geiger Yes. Its private information
Cory Wood
Cory Wood This is a no brainer!!! of course they should have a warrant!! Even if they do need one, that doesn't stop some officers from doing it anyways. They know you take them to court and most courts wouldnt give us a fighting chance against the officer. The fact is, the government evades our lives enough. What makes you think this will be any different? Good reading tho PhoneDog keep them coming!!
Bobby Hill
Bobby Hill Yea
Jesse Miguel
Jesse Miguel Definitely will need a warrant, this is just a step closer into making america into a communist country, don't feed into it, get involved!!
Chey Tor
Chey Tor Your cell phone is your property just like your house and thus a warrant should be needed before access is LEGALLY granted.
Jarvis Tejada
Jarvis Tejada
Mario Sauceda
Mario Sauceda Hell yeah.. yeeeeehaaawwww!!!!!!
Mark Gittens
Mark Gittens Ofcourse but they do what they want to do and it will always be their word against yours
Jarvis Tejada
Jarvis Tejada i think so cause they can already do what they want anyway giving them the "privilige" to do so would just make them go through your phone anyway in any case which is an invasion of privacy ... most cops abuse power and it sucks
William Newland
William Newland :yaolaugh: Have widget button to erase entire phone handy or big cup of liquid to drop phone into at hand imo
Juan Ramirez
Juan Ramirez Hell yeah they do!
Matt Mirarchi
Matt Mirarchi No
Goose Gause
Goose Gause No, it proves whether or not you were texting and or talking while driving.
Austin Jae
Austin Jae Absolutely.
Ladylaine Miller
Ladylaine Miller yes.
Nicky Irelan
Nicky Irelan i thought they DID have to have one to search it....
Roger Schubert DeOliveira
Roger Schubert DeOliveira unless it pertains to the crime, yes they need a search warrant, if they stop you for speeding, then there is no need.
Steve Williams
Steve Williams i think only when it has to do with terrorism patriot act etc
MsStretch Sanders
MsStretch Sanders No, I have nothing to hide...now, my house? Hell yea! But the Patriot Act has taken that to a whole new level...
Robert Hays
Robert Hays Yes
Ashley Taylor
Ashley Taylor If they are suspected of texting and driving, No. Just to see the times of the last text.
Brandon Moore
Brandon Moore Yes its crazy tho why would they search ur phone
Prabhath Jay
Prabhath Jay YES
Jesseeka Becker
Jesseeka Becker Absolutely not. If you did nothing wrong then you have nothing to worry about. If you send texts or made calls that were not appropriate or link you to a crime or if you looked at certain things that are illegal or made certain transactions through your phone, the phone does serve as evidence. I would hand my phone over to the darn FBI without a worry in the world. If you do not do anything illegal, then you have nothing to worry about, so no problem with letting someone go through it. =)
Sonny Waraich
Sonny Waraich Should depend on the severity of the crime committed.
Jamil Oquendo
Jamil Oquendo YES!

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