Police need warrant to search cell phones - FOX 13 News

Police need warrant to search cell phones

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

For many Americans, the cell phone carries more than just conversations. It's the keeper of email, financial records, web searches and interests. It's why the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police need court approval before delving into your digital life.

"Cell phones are not what they were 15 years ago," said Jeffrey Brown, a Tampa defense attorney. "Cell phones really collect all of our data. They have everything about us."

Brown sees Wednesday's ruling as a step towards privacy. The court decision goes against the argument that searching someone's phone could be done without warrant if officers' lives were in immediate danger or evidence on the device was going to be destroyed.

"It's a great step for the Supreme Court, which is usually behind the times," said Brown.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, a suspect's phone can be a wealth of evidence in a case, and over the years, investigators have looked there for clues, but only with a warrant.

"It could be information through emails, an exchange of text messages regarding criminal activity," said Larry McKinnon, a sheriff's office spokesman. "These are basically mobile computers. There's always that strong chance there is evidentiary value in these phones."

The sheriff's office does not anticipate a large impact from this ruling, since it only does court-approved searches, but it will consult with local and state attorneys to see if investigators will have to make any changes, according to McKinnon.

There is one situation where Hillsborough deputies might look at a cell phone without a warrant, and that is if someone's life is at risk and information on the phone could save that life.

According to Brown, there are emergency exceptions, but those are judged case by case.

"It should give a lot of comfort to the people in this country... that what's on your cell phone should really stay privileged unless a judge authorizes a warrant," said Brown.

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