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Court of Appeals Allows Search of Cell Phone Without Warrant
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A federal appeals court has ruled that police in the United States are now allowed to search for a cell phone’s number without needing a warrant for the search. In Indiana, police officers found multiple cell phones sitting at the scene of a major drug bust. Those officers then searched each of the phones found for its number. Once the officers found each phone’s number they were then able to acquire subpoenas for the call histories of the phone owner. By acquiring the call histories of each phone, the officers were able to link the owners to the drug ring.

Abel Flores-Lopez, who was one of the suspects arrested in the bust, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted. Flores-Lopez appealed the sentence claiming that the police officers did not have the right to search for the phone’s number without having a warrant at the time.


The 7th Circuit United States Court of Appeal turned down the appeal from Flores-Lopez this Wednesday. The court determined that the privacy invasion was so minimal that the Fourth Amendment’s ban against unreasonable searches was not violated. The court then decided to look at how far police officers can go when investigating electronic items in cases.

“Lurking behind this issue is the question whether and when a laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or other type of computer (whether called a ‘computer’ or not) can be searched without a warrant,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in the decision, which was voted on by a panel of three judges. Posner mentioned the iCam, which can permit people to connect their phone to a computer internet camera. A home web camera can let people search a home’s insides remotely.

“At the touch of a button, a cell phone search becomes a house search,” Posner wrote.

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In the decision, Posner also compared a diary to a cell phone. Police are permitted to open a pocket diary to copy the address of an owner; therefore police should be permitted to activate a cell phone to find its number. Posner also then wrote that police are not allowed to investigate love letters found in the pages of a book so they are not permitted to investigate any files found in a phone.

The prosecutors on the case said that police have to operate under a ton of pressure because people can wipe their phones clean with the click of a button these days. The court did not determine how deep a police officer can go when searching through a person’s phone found at a crime scene.


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