Should warrants be required for cell phone searches?


Posted on November 28, 2012 at 7:56 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 28 at 8:01 PM

There is debate whether warrants should be required for cell phone searches.

The amount of data that's stored on modern day smart phones is immense. David McGroty, a forensic examiner at Flashback Data in Austin says they see location data, and text messages and pictures and videos.

He says, "With location data attached to pictures or videos, I can not only see where you were, because here is a picture of the Alamo, but I can also see where you were before that."

Imagine how that information can assist in a criminal investigation. Flashback Data works with police departments and other investigators to uncover information. It has the same accreditation as the FBI for this.

McGroty says the question now is to what degree do the laws protect when somebody can or can't look through your phone.

No federal law makes this clear, so various states and municipalities can act on whim, in an arrest, or even if you're just pulled over.

All you think is private, could be scrutinized.

As an analogy, imagine all the information on your cell phone put on a projector for all to see -- all your pictures, emails, and last 500 Internet searches.

Jim Harrington, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, says, "Seizing your cell phone and then looking at the information. The courts have gone both ways. Some say looking at cell phone information is private, others said, it's like you said something out loud in public."

He's also concerned over a proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

"What's going to happen is we aren't going to have any privacy protection," Harrington adds.

He says one bill would authorize access to Americans' emails, Google document files, Twitter direct messages and so on, without a search warrant, to more than 22 government agencies.
They would only have to get a subpoena.

The U.S. Senate could make a decision Thursday.

Harrington wrote an opinion editorial on the topic, published in the Houston Chronicle and U-T's Daily Texan.