Searching your cell phone without a warrant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Supreme Court heard two cases this week about whether law enforcement has the right to search our cell phone devices without a court order.

Our mobile phones contain information we store and use-- information that can also be evidence. Sergeant Jeff Owen is part of the Digital Forensic Investigative Unit for the Missouri State Highway Patrol .

"They're designed to record anything we do," Owen said. "Anything you can do on a smartphone people are doing it while going down the highway."

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, in 2012 out of the 1,900 traffic crashes that involved drivers distracted by their device while driving. Out of those cases, 13 people died and 779 were injured. In half of all fatal crashes, Owen's team analyzes cell phone data.

"As you use your device it logs that activity whether it be a text message, a phone call, surfing the web. So wherever those records are gathered, we try and extract those and put it in some type of timeline so we can match it with the facts from the accident," he said.

The department can't search the handset without consent from the owner or a court order. Owen said cell phone data can play a strong role in the investigation and not always convicts.

"When we go through it we try and corroborate the statements or clear the driver as well," he said.

The forensic software they use won't necessarily reveal any of your secrets.

"Depending on the device and carrier. For instance, if I were to text you today there would be a record of that text. It wouldn't necessarily have the content of that text," he explained.

Decisions by the Supreme Court are expected early this summer.

Print this article Back to Top