Every day, we carry amazing amounts of information and computing power in our pockets or purses. Our smart phones hold a lot of info about us and our lives, and many individuals don't fully understand their rights related to them. In today's technologically supercharged world, you need to understand how the fourth amendment affects your rights to privacy regarding your cell phone—or suffer the consequences.
Image via Flickr by West Midlands Police
The Modern Computer
Our phones contain more information today than ever before. Many people would argue that they aren't purely phones anymore, either. The reality is that they are small computers that happen to have the capability to make calls. In fact, our phones have even more processing power and memory than entire computer systems had in decades past. Furthermore, the information we keep on our phones can be very sensitive. Personal pictures, usernames and passwords, and financial information can all be forfeited if someone else has access to your phone.
The Fourth Amendment
Laws frequently change and adapt to account for new trends, and this is especially true of governmental regulations with regards to your cell phone. The fourth amendment prohibits unlawful searches and seizures, and for a search or seizure to take place the government would first need a warrant as well as probable cause.
In the recent past, it was all but impossible for government entities and law enforcement personnel to take your cell phone, but lately that does not seem to be the case. It has not been uncommon for the government to get access to phones—whether they have a legitimate reason or not.
Essentially, there was nothing in place to hold government entities in check. Though we like to trust that the government will not to violate our fourth amendment rights, changing technology outpaced legislation, leading to legal gray areas. If you were arrested for a minor offense such as a traffic violation, the police could rifle through the contents of your phone. All of your usernames and passwords, social media profiles, personal pictures, call and chat histories, and personal information such as home address could be sifted through by a complete stranger. This is extremely invading to say the least.
The good news is that things look like they are moving in the right direction. The Supreme Court recently reached a unanimous decision that law enforcement personnel can't search through your phone unless they have a warrant. This decision was based on the argument that phones aren't just phones anymore. They contain volumes of information that could be found in someone's computer desk or home closet. Since searches and seizures are not permitted there, they shouldn't be permitted to access that information on your phone. With concrete laws starting to surface, it seems as though our data will be adequately protected from the government.