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.
The thirty page article includes a 2007 case that went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals – the United States v. Finley – in which police arrested a man following a drug sales sting and looked through the cell phone that was on his person. They found text messages that appeared to be connected to drug dealing, evidence which was used to convict Finley. In the end, the appeals court supported the legality of the search.
Truth be told, this news gives us goosebumps. Not because we plan on going 90 mph in a school safety zone, but because the larger issue of privacy seems to be at stake. It would be easy just write this one off as a proof that The Man is indeed a Fascist out to take away all of our liberties, but we just think it's a case in which the law has to catch up with technology. The writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights could not have foreseen this kind of scenario, and it should be the responsibility of the US Congress to take up the issue as we become more and more enmeshed in a gray legal area that hasn't kept up with technological developments. Do you think police are justified in looking through your cell phone during a legal search?