Monday, March 5, 2012

Court of Appeals Approve Search of Cell Phone Without Warrant

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a disturbing ruling on a case which gave the court an opportunity to examine just how far the police can go when it comes to searching electronic devices.  Police officers in Indiana found several cell phones at the scene of a drug bust.  The police searched through each cell phone for its cell phone number.  The police collected the cell phone numbers, subpoenaed the call histories of each cell phone and were able to link the owners of the cell phones to the drug selling operation.  One of the defendants, Adel Flores-Lopez, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling drugs.  On appeal, Flores-Lopez argued that the police had no right to search through the cell phones without a warrant.  The Court of Appeals rejected Flores-Lopez's claims find that the invasion of privacy was so slight that the police's actions did not violate the 4th Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches.  The majority opinion was written by Judge Richard Posner.  In his opinion, Judge Posner compared a cell phone to a diary, and just as police can open the cover of the diary to determine who its owner is, the police can open the phone to determine who the owner is.  The court found that the invasion of privacy, which was limited to just discovering the phone number of the phone, was minimal.  But Judge Posner pretty much limited the extent of the search to only determining the phone number and that the police are forbidden for looking for further information on and in the phone.  However, the question of how far the police can go was not totally answered in this case leaving this issue unresolved.

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