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How far can the police go in searching cell phone data?

by | Jun 19, 2019 | Criminal Defense, Firm News |

The growth in the number of people who own cell phones matches the ongoing technological improvements by manufacturers looking for their piece of the market share. Once bulky and hard to handle, the devices now fit easily into the palm of the owners’ hands. Once expensive and exclusive to the wealthy, practically everyone from all walks of life relies on cell phones.

Phone calls are only part of the options the devices provide. Evolving into mobile devices, they have become mini-computers that contain megabytes of data that once required entire buildings to house.

In many ways, this technology has made day-to-day life easier unless it involves a traffic stop or arrest.

Ruling from the courts are undisputable. Police officers require a warrant to search suspects’ cellphones. Yet, that doesn’t seem to deter some members of the law enforcement community from finding gray areas to exploit. Specifically, a technicality is allowing some in law enforcement to sidestep constitutional issues.

In their search of more “creative” tactics in evidence gathering, some do not request the device itself. Many are asking the suspect to access the device on their own.

Current laws regarding passwords are not helping as judicial rulings have failed to come to a clear consensus. State Supreme Court rulings throughout the country are pending. Without specific guidance, police are left to implement makeshift processes that help them secure access to mobile devices despite the protests of suspects. They have even partnered with technology companies to hack phones.

In addition to passcodes, officers are also attempting to coerce suspects to use biometric technology – thumbprints and facial recognition – that opens a phone. While some see a difference between a possession (the cell phone) and physical characteristics that can identify the person who should have access to the phone.

The strategy is costly as it depletes police department funds. Even costlier are the rights violations to the accused.