With the ongoing technology boom, it’s important to understand your rights as they pertain to search warrants and invasion of privacy. As we all know, cell phones and computers contain our entire lives. They hold text messages, emails, and pictures that could possibly incriminate us if they were to be seen by certain eyes. It’s important to know that if your phone or computer ends up in the possession of law enforcement officials, you have the law on your side. The Fourth Amendment says that warrants must state where the government will search and what evidence the government will seize.
Recently, when asked to sign warrants for computer searches, several federal magistrate judges have began to impose a third requirement: limits on how they can be searched. It has been hotly debated whether or not it is permissible to limit how a computer or cell phone is searched before performing the actual search itself, or whether questions about how it’s searched should be reviewed after the investigation takes place. For now there isn’t any sound middle ground.
Opinions vary greatly, but a recent statement made by Magistrate Judge David Waxse of Kansas stood out because the he rejects any DEA application (specifically) for a cell phone search warrant because the investigators refused to provide the court with a search protocol. According to Waxse, magistrate judges should not feel as if they have to stick to Supreme Court precedent when it comes to the ever-changing world of technology. He is of the opinion that if a phone or computer needs to be searched, law enforcement officials must confide in the first Article III precedent which concerns whether or not such restrictions are permitted. Judge Waxse concluded that he has the authority to deny applications for these types of warrants if it is not detailed how the search will be executed prior to the event. He believes that the court should uphold the purpose of the Fourth Amendment, which is to prevent general searches.
Ultimately, those in Waxse’s camp think that developing or outlining the protocol before searching the device restricts the search to specific fields on inquiry by giving individuals their right to privacy while simultaneously allowing the case to be investigated effectively.
Either way, a search warrant needs to clearly define what the authorities are looking for and how they look for it—anything outside those parameters is a blatant disregard of your privacy. If you are in a situation in which your computer or cell phone has been confiscated by law enforcement, it is crucial that you know your rights. Call me, attorney William C. Miller, at (732) 742-5556 today to protect your freedoms.