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The Fourth Amendment and your cellphone: What are your rights?

People depend on their cellphones now more than ever. Cellphones help us keep in contact with loved ones and direct us where we need to go. We store nearly our entire lives on cellular devices, from personal conversations in text messages to memorable photos.

With how much people depend on their cellphones, it is essential that individuals know what privacy rights they have regarding them, especially if they face criminal charges. A recent news story about a Florida man’s arrest and police’s increasing determination to access people’s cellphones only demonstrates how important it is for Kentuckians to understand their rights.

Without a warrant, you can deny a search of your cellphone

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects individuals from an illegal invasion of their privacy. It protects a wide variety of a person’s items from a police search, including:

  • Their home
  • Their person
  • Their property

Someone’s property or effects include their cellphone. So, individuals have the right to deny a search of their phone without a warrant. Police must even obtain a warrant to search someone’s cellphone when they make an arrest.

The Fourth Amendment can protect your location too

One year ago, the Supreme Court established that law enforcement cannot access the location information that cellphone companies collect without a warrant.

In the past, law enforcement and courts depended on the third-party doctrine. This doctrine claimed that people voluntarily allowed cellphone companies to collect GPS and location information when they purchased a cellphone or used apps. And since a third party held this information, police did not need a warrant to access it.

The Supreme Court determined that this violated privacy laws. Now, law enforcement must obtain a warrant to secure this information. And they must have probable cause to obtain a warrant.

However, not all information is protected

This Supreme Court decision does not protect all information, including:

  • Cell tower locations from making phone calls
  • Information uploaded to the cloud
  • Anything uploaded to social media sites

It is critical for individuals to take measures to protect their information. The laws surrounding cellphone privacy can be complex, and it is a gray area of law that changes as fast as technology advances. So, understanding how the Fourth Amendment safeguards information on a cellphone is essential for everyone in this new age.