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The Fourth Amendment protects your cellphone

In this new age of technology, people share and store extremely personal information on their cellphones. And nearly every person in Tennessee and across the country has their cellphone on their person at all times.

Storing personal information on our cellphones might be handy. However, it could be dangerous when individuals are facing criminal charges. What if police ask to search your cellphone?

That is why it is critical to understand your rights to protect yourself in these situations.

Supreme Court decisions say cellphones are protected under Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from:

  • Unreasonable searches and seizures of your property;
  • Illegal searches without cause and a warrant; and
  • Governmental violations of your privacy.

These rights generally protect you as well as your property, often including items within your home or vehicle. However, two major Supreme Court cases in the last few years have extended these rights to your cellphone:

1. Riley v. California: In 2013, the Supreme Court determined that it was unconstitutional for police to search the data and content within a cellphone without a warrant.

2. Carpenter v. the United States: In 2017, another decision expanded those rights to prevent police from using cellphone data to determine or track a person's location without a warrant.

These decisions established that your cellphone generally contains even more personal and private information than your home. So, the Court determined that both of these actions were a violation of an individual's reasonable right to privacy and protected under the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, police need a warrant to search your cellphone

So, like any other items of your personal property, the police must have a valid search warrant to search your phone. Remember, a valid search warrant must:

  • Have been petitioned by the police in good faith;
  • Be signed by a neutral judge; and
  • List the specific items or locations to be searched, in this case, your cellphone.

Even if police produce a search warrant, you have the right to review the warrant and ensure it is valid before allowing police to search your cellphone. It is important to note that there are a few emergency circumstances when police might not need a warrant. However, that is why it is critical to understand your rights when it comes to protecting your property - and yourself.

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