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Cell phone texts: admissible during a general police search? – New York Computer Help soapbox talk

I usually am the type to go with the flow as may be confirmed by my friends and family.  But, there is one recent Court Do text messages require a search warrantissue that I’m up in arms about.  The tech issue of whether text messages are able to be viewed without a search warrant.  For example, a woman was searched after suspecting  she had something to do with her 6-year old son’s death.  In searching her house, the officer heard a beeping noise in the kitchen that came from an LG cellphone.  The officer found an incriminating text: “Wat if I got 2 take him 2 da hospital wat do I say and dos marks on his neck omg.”  This text was sent to her boyfriend.  Yes, not the most eloquent or brightest bulb of the bunch, but nonetheless incriminating.

That text says it all!  The boyfriend, who was in the apartment at the time, was charged for murder.  Case closed, right?  Wrong!  After 3 long years after the murder, the Rhode Island judge threw out the murder charge because the cell phone was not in “plain view” nor did the mother give consent to search it.  Since there was no cell phone search warrant, then the cell phone is supposed to be free from police scrutiny.  The Court went further to say that searching the cell phone is an invasion of privacy due to the vast amount of private information that may gleaned from text messages and the contents of the cell phone.  The case is currently under appeal in the Supreme Court while the accused is thankfully still in jail.

Now, just about every state is divided on where they stand on this issue.  Rhode Island feels the legislature dictates in that a search warrant is necessary whereas the state’s governor thinks the courts are better suited to resolve these complex and case-specific issues.  California cannot even decide if viewing text messages is a violation of Fourth Amendment protection, protecting against unreasonable searches.

I fall more in the camp of if you’re a suspect for murder, especially for your own child, your rights go out the window.  Of course, that’s not fair to those who are innocent and the old-age of being innocent until proven guilty.  As I stand on my soapbox, I do feel that a cell phone, or smart phone, is definitely a very personal  belonging, containing pretty much all of our contacts, cherished pictures, and timeline of our conversations.  It certainly allows one to get a good sense of you as a person and what you’ve been up to.

That being said, and not dissecting the privacy matters, I feel that one’s cell phone is like one’s physical body, very personal and always in “plain view,” not requiring a search warrant.  In contrast, I realize that the cell phone is open info that could be incriminating, and wouldn’t necessarily be shared within a verbal investigation.  However, if the Courts want to swiftly execute cases, the cell phone should be free game especially when someone’s life is in the balance.

Keep in mind that I’m a big believer in not regulating the Internet.  Prying eyes and delving into one’s personal life shouldn’t be privy non-stop.  That’s downright computer hacking.  Yes, computer viruses may be stopped with more regulation, but I realize you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  With “plain sight” searches not requiring search warrants, I believe that cell phones are free game and will flush out the truth.  I’m stepping off my soapbox now.

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