Judge to FBI: You Should’ve Gotten a Warrant Before Turning On That Phone
Turning on someone’s cellphone counts as searching it, according to a new federal court ruling. This means that for law enforcement officers, merely pressing a phone’s on button and looking at the screen could require a warrant.
“Generally, courts have held that law enforcement can compel you to use your body, such as your fingerprint (or your face), to unlock a phone but that they cannot compel you to share knowledge, such as a PIN,” notes Kate Cox at Ars Technica. “In this recent case, however, the FBI did not unlock the phone. Instead, they only looked at the phone’s lock screen for evidence.”
The case involves a man in Washington state named Joseph Sam, who local police arrested in May 2019. At the time, the cops confiscated his Motorola smartphone and turned it on yet didn’t unlock the phone or search it. But this past February, FBI agents turned on Sam’s phone and took a picture of the locked screen—which displayed the name Streezy—for use as evidence in a robbery case against Sam.
Sam’s lawyer objected, suggesting that the FBI needed a warrant to look at the phone and, since it had not had one, that any information the FBI gained front Sam’s phone screen should be suppressed.
A federal judge agreed.
In a May 18 decision, John C. Coughenour of the U.S. District Court for the District of Seattle noted that there was a legal difference between what local cops had done in this case and what the FBI did:
The police’s examination took place either incident to a lawful arrest or as part of the police’s efforts to inventory the personal effects found during Mr. Sam’s arrest. The FBI’s examination, by contrast, occurred long after the police had arrested Mr. Sam and inventoried his personal effects. Those examinations present significantly different legal issues…
The local cops’ examination of the phone, Coughenour explained,
may have been a search incident to arrest or an inventory search—two special circumstances where the Government does not always need a warrant to conduct a search. Unfortunately, the Court cannot
Article from Latest – Reason.com