So many details of your life appear on your cell phone: photos, texts, location, account numbers, private relationships and more. Since your phone is personal property, it falls under the Fourth Amendment protections of the United States Constitution.
Even though phones fall under the Fourth Amendment, in some instances, it becomes legal for police in Florida and nationwide to search your phone. Familiarizing yourself with your Constitutional protections and legal search scenarios can help protect you from such searches.
What are my Fourth Amendment protections?
The Fourth Amendment protects you from “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the government. A seizure affects the possession of your physical phone. A search involves the private contents of your phone. The police can look through your phone only if they first get a warrant issued on probable cause.
When can the police search my phone?
In certain instances, the Fourth Amendment protections no longer apply to protecting your cell phone and it becomes legal for officers to search your phone without a judicial warrant. One way is if the police get consent from you to search your phone. You should not provide your consent.
Another instance in which officers can conduct a warrantless search is with publically viewable items. For example, the officer sees, in plain view, evidence (e.g., a photo) on your unlocked phone screen.
Overall, Your phone is your protected property and if the police ask to see your cell phone, ask to see the search warrant. Your phone is your protected property.