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Can the Police Search Your Smartphone?

Is searching your smartphone legal?

Ideas of privacy have changed dramatically as technology improves. Today, much of your life is accessible through your phone. This may not concern you in the abstract, but when police demand to search your smartphone, you will likely rethink that. There are limits in place to protect you, but in an evolving world, you may have trouble applying yesterday’s limits to today’s problem. Work with an experienced criminal lawyer to help protect your rights.

Fourth Amendment Protections

The Fourth Amendment to the United States and Wisconsin constitutions protects against unreasonable search and seizure. It requires police officers to have a warrant before searching your property. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2014 that this requires police to have a warrant based on probable cause before they can search a phone for digital information. If you are stopped and asked to hand over your phone, you have the right to refuse under constitutional privacy protections.

Fifth Amendment Protections

The Fifth Amendment adds more criminal process protections by preventing you from having to provide self-incriminating testimony. In the smartphone context, this means you do not have to give your password to a police officer. What the law does not yet make clear is whether this extends to biometric measures like your fingerprint or facial recognition. Before you agree to help authorities unlock your phone, you should consult an experienced criminal attorney.

Keeping Up with Technology

The biometrics issue makes clear that smartphones are part of a significant legal problem: trying to apply static legal principles to fast-changing technologies. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments apply to many concerns, but they were written at a time no one could have envisioned the privacy concerns that today’s technology enables. Understanding what rights you have, and when you may waive them, is a tricky subject for even the best legal minds of today. Trying to make sense of them without an experienced criminal attorney is even more difficult. If you are faced with criminal charges, contact Eisenberg Law Offices, at or at (608)256-8356. We will help you understand and protect your smartphone-related rights.