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Florida Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant To Search Cell Phones 107

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-terrible-amateur-photography-is-safe-from-prying-eyes dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In a case stemming from a Jacksonville burglary, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday that police must get a search warrant before searching someone's cell phone. 'At this time, we cannot ignore that a significant portion of our population relies upon cell phones for email communications, text message information, scheduling, and banking,' read the majority opinion (PDF), authored by Justice Fred Lewis. 'The position of the dissent, which would permit the search here even though no issue existed with regard to officer safety or evidence preservation, is both contrary to, and the antithesis of, the fundamental protections against government intrusion guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.'"
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Florida Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant To Search Cell Phones

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  • A win for me! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Friday May 03, 2013 @02:37PM (#43622799)
    Hey, Florida's not all that bad.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      Am I a troll for pointing out that Florida isn't all sunshine and flowers?
      • by Cosgrach (1737088)

        I often wonder about the mindset of people giving out mod points. I agree with you. Why were you modded a troll?

        Then I realize that this is /. and reality and common sense have no business here.

    • Re:A win for me! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cutting_Crew (708624) on Friday May 03, 2013 @02:58PM (#43623015)
      Well, pretty good quality of life(lots of sunshine, some good schools, tons of fun stuff to do), no state taxes.... its not all that bad at all.
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        I have lived there for some time, and been in Georgia for the last few years.

        I'm moving back to FL this summer. Of all the places I've lived, FL is my favorite. (Maine, California, Georgia, Florida)

      • I think moreso than most other states of its size Florida is pretty uneven. Panhandle vs. Orlando area vs. Miami area are just completely different worlds. Different cultures, different terrain, different climate, different activities. The only constants I can think of offhand that matter are the firearm laws, homestead exemption and lack of state income tax.
        • very true. Panhandle(Pensacola, Destin, Orange Beach) vs. Tampa/Orlando/Sarasota/Miami is totally different. the later is a great combination of rural and city live where as the first option is basically more rural with the exception of some pretty nice beaches.
      • Re:A win for me! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday May 03, 2013 @05:11PM (#43624267)

        But it's Florida. Don't you have to take a sanity test and fail it before you're allowed to move there?

        • by unitron (5733)

          But it's Florida. Don't you have to take a sanity test and fail it before you're allowed to move there?

          Moving there voluntarily counts as the test.

          (actually I've never been there, and don't know enough about it to pass judgement)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Now let's see if it holds up.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by amiga3D (567632) on Friday May 03, 2013 @02:41PM (#43622861)

      This will probably wind up in the Supreme Court eventually. I've been looking forward to that day.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 03, 2013 @02:39PM (#43622835)

    Somebody check for snow in Tallahassee!

  • A phone message is in fact the same concept as an Email or Private conversation, therefore it should be awarded the same level or privacy and protection. It's also interesting to note that just by reading a phone message you're not going to get the entire story most of the time. I can't count how many of phone messages are extensions of conversations I've had over email and in person, if you read the message on my phone with out the context it will either make no sense or make me / them look bad, when in
    • by Sporkinum (655143)

      It's even worse if google voice transcribes it!
      I got this a couple of days ago.( Hey Captain dial any. I'm not getting anything over your 59515 that's 3 so server getting closer. They just need to know hey you know set up. So. )

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What exactly makes a cellphone (or any digital device) different than any other personal posession? Why did it take a special court ruling (and probably millions of dollars) to "clarify" this "issue"? Does the law (and the constitution) not already state that a person cannot be searched without due process?

    Where in the world did this confusion come from?

    • by jittles (1613415) on Friday May 03, 2013 @03:07PM (#43623071)

      What exactly makes a cellphone (or any digital device) different than any other personal posession? Why did it take a special court ruling (and probably millions of dollars) to "clarify" this "issue"? Does the law (and the constitution) not already state that a person cannot be searched without due process?

      Where in the world did this confusion come from?

      Cell phones are carried about on your person. Historically, when you are arrested, the police review and inventory items on your possession. They are able to do so because they are arresting you. Any evidence found on your person is admissible in court. However, the modern day cell phone often extends above and beyond the things that a normal person might carry on their person. You might have thousands of messages, emails, your bank statements, and other personal and confidential information you do not make a habit of carrying with you. If the police need access to that information, and have probable cause, then they should have to get a warrant to do so. Just as they would need a warrant to review my call logs, my bank statement, or to search through my house.

      • by Hatta (162192) on Friday May 03, 2013 @03:20PM (#43623177) Journal

        To elaborate, the search incident to arrest is justified for the officer's safety. If you had a sealed letter on you, they could open it because there might be a shiv in the letter. In opening that letter, the contents enter plain view which makes them known to the police.

        A cell phone is rightly exempt from this, because you can eliminate any possibility that the cell phone is a weapon without examining the data.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          No, if they think the letter could be dangerous to them, they can take it away and give it back when you are released. They do not need to open it for their safety. IANAL.
      • The prosecutor knew this, and informed the defense first, and then got a warrant, and only then viewed the photos.

        Basically they can take the phone and inventory it, but not its contents without a warrant.

        It's a small but important legal distinction. I can't imagine judges not approving such warrants on phones of robbery suspects, but go throuh the proper paperwork, thx.

    • by idontgno (624372) on Friday May 03, 2013 @03:11PM (#43623105) Journal

      For the same reason you can patent ancient chestnuts by suffixing the claims with "...in a mobile device." All bets are off and no claim is too outrageous.

      The powers assume you don't have civil rights until some court says you do. Even the words on a 200-year-old scrap of parchment are re-parsed with each new technological advance (printing press, telegraphy, telephones, etc.) because there are people in power for whom your clearly stated rights are an obstacle to their goals... so your rights are not applicable in this particular case until someone slaps them on the wrist and tells them that the right does, in fact, still apply.

      This is the ugly truth behind the often-quoted maxim "the law doesn't keep up with technology." The people behind the law have a vested interest in making sure the established protections of the rule of law can't be applied in as many circumstances as possible, and work hard to redefine each new technological plateau as a new frontier of surveillance, seizure, and self-incrimination.

      The men behind the Bill of Rights understood this. This is why we even have a Bill of Rights: because the government needs a standing restraint order against stalking their citizens.

    • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday May 03, 2013 @03:16PM (#43623151) Homepage Journal

      What exactly makes a cellphone (or any digital device) different than any other personal posession? Why did it take a special court ruling (and probably millions of dollars) to "clarify" this "issue"? Does the law (and the constitution) not already state that a person cannot be searched without due process?

      Where in the world did this confusion come from?

      because cops are assholes who think it's their job to take as much leeway they can get every time they can.

      shouldn't be so, but it is. so when they started finding phones in peoples pockets(after going through the due process of determining that they looked like hoodlums) they took the opportunity to treat them as if they had just found everything in the phone as if it was on a printout and hell, since they now had the phone in custody why not try entrapping people based on the good faith they(the friends of the owner of the phone) had on the owner of the phone. because, as you know it's A WAR! a war on drugs and there's no rules on war(well, there isn't if you don't adhere to international conventions anyways). or terror. or for the good of the town. or whatever.

      of course it's a generalization but can you blame people for starting to make such generalizations when they stem from real actions..

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For once in a very long while, I feel slightly more proud to be a (native) Floridian!

  • ... that this goes to the US Supreme Court and they uphold this as the law of the land. The citizens of all states deserve that protection.
    • Does it offer any protections against a possible "I did it for my safety" or "It was a matter of national security" or "I had reasonable expectations that it was vital to stop a crime"?

      • Do what? The ruling from the court protects a "not doing" not a "doing". It protects your right to not give up one of your encryption passwords. So what was the "it" you are referring to in your questions?
        • Sure. It protects you but if an officer of the law uses his authority you're helpless and he WILL obtain your data. You can refuse and he can arrest you.

          The problem comes when, upon suing law enforcement or trying to rule the evidence inadmissible (I'm talking out of my ass here, I'm not sure what the exact procedures are) you get one of those arguments to assert the legality of the search.

  • Not so in Ontario (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Ontario court of Appeal in a case called Fearon recently decided that if the phone is not password protected it is fair game for the police to go through it without a warrant.

    • That's kind of where I see this one going.

      We're long overdue for a ruling protecting privacy of electronic devices.

      I never understood why it's illegal for them to search your locked glove box where you might have a small book,
      but totally legal for them to search your phone which could store THOUSANDS of books.

      Next comes the bickering over what constitutes "locking" - Is an Android unlock pattern good enough?

  • Two justices thought that it was constitutional for police to randomly search through your cell phone, though it seems they did not publish an opinion as to why.

    A full report of this ruling should include the justification for such a ruling. I would love to read it!
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      Two justices thought that it was constitutional for police to randomly search through your cell phone, though it seems they did not publish an opinion as to why.

      A full report of this ruling should include the justification for such a ruling. I would love to read it!

      if I had to guess, it's because they wanted the guy to stay in prison for the 50 year term for the burglary.

      now what's puzzling is why the cop didn't get a permit for the cellphone search, it wouldn't have been too much work considering the sentence for the burglary was FIFTY YEARS! so considering the amount going to be spent keeping him in prison for fifty years, the amount of paperwork costs to get the permit shouldn't really have been that much.

      (also, it was puzzling from the report.. were the pictures f

      • now what's puzzling is why the cop didn't get a permit for the cellphone search,

        They probably just assumed that they had a right to seize the phone and its contents as evidence, since that's how it normally works (what a person has on them at the time of arrest can be seized freely).

  • Just FYI everyone, the Florida Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the Florida state constitution, and it's well-settled precedent that state constitutions can provide greater protection than the Federal constitution. The only way this case could have legitimately gotten to the U.S. Supreme Court is if the Florida Supreme Court found that a warrant WASN'T necessary. The defendant then could have asked the USCT to find that under the 4th and 14th amendment one was required.
  • by ImprovOmega (744717) on Friday May 03, 2013 @03:53PM (#43623497)
    Sadly, given recent events with the sequester my first thought was that some high powered politician had to have been affected. Bravo for some common sense from the judiciary. Now lets percolate that up to Washington and spread it around.

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