POSTED BY Briana Polan

In today’s world, our cell phones are our lifelines. In addition to making calls, these little mini-computers contain our contacts, call lists, calendar information, text information, Internet searches, music library, camera and photo library, and more. In response to the growing use of cell phones, phone manufactures have given owners tools to keep their data safe; for example, the recent iPhone has passcode lock and fingerprint recognition. To law enforcement, however, access to a suspect’s phone could provide crucial information to obtain evidence or provide security alerts.

This past year, the Supreme Court held in Riley v. California, that police are required to have a warrant to search one’s cell phone; thus requiring police to have probable cause in order to maintain the public’s privacy rights. 134 S.Ct. 2473. Police continue to have the right to search a suspect’s personal property, such as a vehicle, wallet, or pockets, without a warrant. The court maintains that this is different because search of a vehicle or wallet is used to determine that the suspect does not possess any item that could injure or kill law enforcement, or allow the suspect to get away. The contents of cell phones, however, do not pose the same threat. Additionally, cell phones have a significant capability for data storage and can lead to a higher degree of intrusion if hacked or searched.

Despite this recent ruling, Apple and Google have found a way to protect user’s privacy while staying within the bounds of the law. Apple’s recent software iOS 8 encrypts the owner’s data, which cannot be unlocked without the owner’s security code. Google is coming out with their own software update for their android phones, which will also secure the owner’s data. Although this is beneficial to the owner, law enforcement is concerned about national security implications. FBI director, James Comey commented that this form of encryption may enable criminals and terrorist to hide their documents and other data.

Balancing the needs of law enforcement and the public has always been a tightrope walk, especially after the NSA leak by Snowden. Although this new software will make data collection more difficult, police can still seek call and text information from cellular devices; obtain information via cell tower data; and listen in on phone calls after following proper procedures.


Bio: Briana is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law. She is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She holds a B.A. in Music Performance and Music Education from Connecticut College and a M.M. in Instrumental Conducting from the University of Miami.


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