CNN reports on the privacy of mobile devices, such as smartphones, and warrantless searches of these devices, which can hold enormous amounts of financial, medical and other personal information.
Think about all the data — photos, videos, text messages, calendar items, apps, call log, voice mail, and e-mail — on your cell phone right now. If you’re arrested, could the police search your cell phone? And would they need a warrant?
That depends on which state you’re in. In California, it is legal for police to search an arrestee’s cell phone without a warrant — ever since a January decision by the California Supreme Court. […]
Meanwhile, in Florida, an appellate court decision upheld warrantless cell phone searches, defining the phone as a kind of “container.” This case may be considered by the Florida Supreme Court. A similar Georgia appellate court decision upheld a warrantless search of a cell phone found in an arrestee’s car (not on her person). In contrast, the Ohio Supreme Court has barred warrantless cell phone searches.
The Michigan State Police (MSP) use data extraction devices to pull data off arrestee’s smartphones. This is done only with a warrant, according to a state police press release.
But when the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain details about how these devices are being used, they encountered serious obstacles. […]
The pattern appears to be that around the U.S., some state and local police officers are taking the initiative to search arrestees’ cell phones. In some cases this yields information relevant to the alleged crime, which has contributed to indictments and convictions.
Only then do some of these cases wind up in appellate or state supreme courts in a process that often takes years.
If you’re concerned about police or anyone else getting into your cell phone, a basic precaution is to configure your phone’s security settings to always require a passcode or pattern to access any of the phone’s data or functions.