Sunday, July 22, 2012

Searching Your Cell Phone

A friend posted this article on Facebook today.
The law has well-developed doctrines protecting the privacy of our desktop computers, landline telephones, and filing cabinets. But modern cell phones perform all of these functions, and more. If the police are free to rummage through any cell phone that falls into their hands, every arrest would automatically give the police access to a treasure trove of private data that they would otherwise need a warrant, based on probable cause, to obtain.
The courts ruled that they are.  The judge in this case said:
While text messages may be legally protected in transit, he argued that they lose privacy protections once they have been delivered to a target device in the hands of the police. He claimed that the same rule applied to letters and e-mail.
 I agree with the dissenting judge.
One judge dissented from the Washington State rulings as well. "Sawyer engaged in a continuing search when he first searched the contacts list on Daniel Lee's iPhone to find Hinton's phone number," wrote Judge Marywave Van Deren in her dissent. Sawyer "used Lee's iPhone to send and receive messages from Hinton. Under these circumstances, I would hold that Sawyer was required to obtain a search warrant."
IF my opponent was willing to engage in any kind of discussion with me, I would be very curious about his role as a local magistrate and his resulting opinions on this issue.  Did he have anything to do with issuing search warrants?  Does he think police should need a search warrant to search a cell phone, delete its contents, or impersonate its owner in a text message?  Would he have issued a warrant to conduct such a search?  Does he see anything problematic with appointing former police officers to the Justice of the Peace court?  Delaware is a small state and lots of people know each other socially even though they are supposed to be holding each other accountable professionally.

I think that Delaware should implement laws requiring police to obtain a search warrant prior to rummaging through cell phones that currently hold a great deal of private information and offer an opportunity to compromise our identities.  I also think that we need to very carefully ensure that there are adequate checks and balances between the executive and judicial branches, a role the Senate performs as a very effective rubber stamp.

If anyone can get a response from him, please ask my opponent for his opinion on these issues.

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