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When can the police search through your cellphone?

As many people know, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you and your property against unreasonable searches and seizures by the police. However, not many people know how this nearly 200-year-old amendment protects their modern smartphones.

Nowadays, people keep a considerable amount of their personal information and activities recorded on their cellphones. So, how does the Fourth Amendment protect these devices if individuals face criminal charges?

2014 case determines the Fourth Amendment protects your cellphone

The Fourth Amendment explicitly protects a person and their property from illegal searches without a warrant. And in 2014, the Supreme Court determined that cellphones were protected by this law.

This decision requires police to obtain a search warrant if they wish to search your phone, just like they would have to in order to search your home or any other item in your possession. However, there are a few exceptions. Iowa police might be able to search your phone without a warrant if:

  • You consent to the search
  • It is an emergency situation
  • The search occurred on public property, such as public school grounds

Police might also be able to search through your cellphone after making an arrest, though they usually still need a warrant. And if the police do not have a warrant, you do not have to allow them to search your phone.

What if the police do have a warrant?

Many people think that if police produce a search warrant, they must automatically allow the search. However, it is critical to remember that before any police search, you should always ask to review the warrant.

A valid warrant must include:

  • The name of the individual to be searched
  • The specific place police will search, such as your cellphone
  • A list of items police can collect as evidence
  • A judge's signature approving the warrant
  • The date or deadline to complete the search

If any of these details are missing, you have the right to deny the search of your cellphone as well as the data on your cellphone. Understanding and using your rights in these situations is critical to protect yourself and your future.

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