Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

When can Law Enforcement Search Your Phone?


A suburban Boston man was arrested recently and charged with the receipt and possession of child pornography. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations as well as the FBI and Massachusetts police. The man was later charged with one count of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. The charge was initially made after an examination of the man’s phone revealed both images and videos depicting child pornography. The man made an initial appearance through video conference in federal court.


Phones play a valuable role in our lives. Unfortunately, there are several ways that law enforcement officers can lawfully access details stored on your phone, besides arrest. The following reviews some of the most common of these situations.


Data Stored Outside Your Cell Phone


A great deal of information can be stored on the cloud rather than directly on your phone. Unfortunately, if you back up details from your iPhone to Apple’s Cloud, the government can obtain details from Apple. Assuming that law enforcement proceeds through the proper channels, they can most access information that is stored outside of your device. For example, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 states what law enforcement must do in order to obtain this information, which frequently requires a court order, search warrant, or subpoena based on what law enforcement wants to find. 


Data You Shared with Someone Else


If law enforcement wants to obtain information that you shared with someone else, a warrant is not necessary provided that the other party is willing to hand over this information. This is because you do not have a Fourth Amendment interest in messages that are received by someone else.


Personal Data Stored on Your Phone Through Warrant or Subpoena


When it comes to the information stored on your phone, there is a possibility that law enforcement cannot access the data. Sometimes, however, law enforcement can access this data. Provided that you do not have a passcode or law enforcement uses a specialized passcode-cracking program and have the warrant to do so, they can access this information. If your phone is locked with a passcode, and law enforcement cannot crack your password, the information might remain protected by the Fifth Amendment which states that you cannot be compelled to provide self-incriminating evidence.


You Have Passed Away


If you die with incriminating evidence on your phone, it is important to remember that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments often end when a person’s life does. If law enforcement is able to access data on the phone on its own, this evidence can often be obtained. If law enforcement cannot access this data, the phone manufacturer’s approach to privacy problems will often address this situation. 


Contact the Services of a Skilled Massachusetts Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer


The state of Massachusetts takes sex crimes seriously, and being convicted of such an offense can result in various penalties including lasting social stigma, fines, and imprisonment. If you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney, do not hesitate to contact attorney Edward R Molari today to schedule a free case evaluation.