Unsettling Thought of the Day: The law allows police to search through cell phone contents of people who have been stopped for arrestable traffic offenses. Gizmodo reports that a recent academic article by South Texas Assistant Professor Adam Gershowitz explains that many traffic violations merit a search for contraband like drugs, and search parameters extend to hand-held devices. The law considers cell phones and iPods to be closed containers that police are permitted to "open," even if they contain your private text messages, photos, call history, browsing history and e-mails.
This is something I have been concerned about for awhile, and you should be too. Until today, the extent of my preparations have been to strictly limit the information stored on my cellphone. No bank data, passwords, nor even any reference to this or any other website. But you never know what seemingly innocuous bit of information may be used against you. With nothing more than your cell phone number, your movements can be tracked retroactively for as far back as your service provider keeps records, as well as in the future. Since 2005, cellphones have been required by law to contain GPS receivers to track your whereabouts. Even if you have an older phone that lacks the GPS, providers are also required to have the ability to track you on demand via automatic triangulation and signal timing systems incorporated in the cell sites.
This was brought to my attention today by a news story about a cop who was being prosecuted by his employer for text messages found on his cell phone. After reading that, I searched for information about cops searching cell phones of private citizens. I found several articles on the subject, all agreeing that this is a possibility. As a result, my cellphone is now password protected, as well as containing strictly limited information as before.
Don't think that term "arrestable traffic offenses" protects you either, as I recall a court finding of a few years ago which declared that you may be arrested for anything for which you may be pulled over. Drive without your seat belt, or with a burned-out brakelight? Better make sure your cellphone is protected.
Of course, if you feel the police are your friends and would never use any of this against you because you are such a law-abiding citizen, you are free to ignore this advice.