Sunday, February 21, 2010

Police push for warrantless searches of cell phones

This is an important legal question that remains unresolved: as our gadgets store more and more information about us, including our appointments, correspondence, and personal photos and videos, what rules should police investigators be required to follow? The Obama administration and many local prosecutors' answer is that warrantless searches are perfectly constitutional during arrests. "There are very, very few cases involving smartphones," Chris Feasel, deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, said in an interview on Wednesday. "The law has not necessarily caught up to the technology." Feasel said the county's position is that a search of a handheld device that takes place soon after an arrest is lawful. "It's an interesting issue that may decide the future of how courts handle these kinds of cases, especially smartphones and iPhones," he said. Attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco civil liberties group that's representing Taylor, have asked the court to suppress any evidence obtained from the search of his iPhone. They say the search was "unconstitutional" because it was done without a warrant--and they say it also may have violated a 1986 federal law designed to protect the privacy of e-mail messages. Privacy advocates say that long-standing legal rules allowing police to search suspects during an arrest--including looking through their wallets and pockets--should not apply to smartphones because the amount of material they store is so much greater and the risks of intrusive searches are so much more

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