Saturday, February 20, 2010

Police push for warrantless searches of cell phones
...Attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco civil liberties group that's representing Taylor, have asked the court to suppress any evidence obtained from the search of his iPhone. They say the search was "unconstitutional" because it was done without a warrant--and they say it also may have violated a 1986 federal law designed to protect the privacy of e-mail messages.

Privacy advocates say that long-standing legal rules allowing police to search suspects during an arrest--including looking through their wallets and pockets--should not apply to smartphones because the amount of material they store is so much greater and the risks of intrusive searches are so much higher. A 32GB iPhone 3GS, for instance, can hold approximately 220,000 copies of the unabridged text of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"Neither the search of (Taylor's) vehicle nor the search of his iPhone was justified by any exception to the warrant requirement," the EFF and its co-counsel, San Francisco attorney Randall Garteiser wrote in a brief filed earlier this month.

Sex photos drew federal lawsuit
Concerns about privacy are not merely hypothetical. In March 2008, Nathan Newhard was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in Culpeper, Va., and his cell phone was seized. In the pictures folder of the cell phone were multiple pictures of Newhard and his then-girlfriend, Jessie Casella, nude in sexually compromising positions.

Newhard and Casella--at that point no longer a couple--filed separate civil rights lawsuits against Sgt. Matt Borders, who they said alerted the rest of the police department on the radio "that the private pictures were available for their viewing and enjoyment." Newhard claimed that, as a result of the incident, he was nonrecommended for continued employment with the Culpeper school system, where he had worked before the arrest.

A federal judge in Virginia last year agreed that the police conduct was "irresponsible, unprofessional, and reprehensible" but said that Culpeper police officers could not be held legally responsible because they did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights. In addition, the court pointed out, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that "officers may retrieve text messages and other information from cell phones and pagers seized incident to an arrest" to preserve evidence. ...