Privacy issues cloud bill allowing police cellphone searches without a warrant

Vermont is proposing a bill that would allow law enforcement to search people’s cellphones without warrants. The aim is to allow police officers to verify if a driver had been texting or talking prior to an accident. The law would make texting/talking while driving enforcement easier as it would require implied consent for drivers to have mobile devices searched if police suspect they were driving while distracted.

Those in favor of privacy are flagging issues about violating people’s privacy and saying Americans have the right to be free of unreasonable and invasive search and seizures and others delving into the highly personal information stored on a cellphone. The U.S. Supreme Court has also bolstered that position by ruling that a warrantless search is unconstitutional.

Although the intention of the proposed law is laudable — to prevent distracted driving — warrantless searches may not be the way to accomplish that goal. Once the police have a cellphone in hand it is not hard to rifle through the complete contents, and data mining a cellphone has wide reaching ramifications in terms of invasion of privacy.

In the final analysis, the implied consent part of the bill was redacted and police still need a warrant to search cellphones.

This is a hot button issue, and the focus needs to be on just what should remain private and what should not. Checking cellphones for use prior to an accident is a crucial piece of evidence in favor of the victim that could go missing or be wiped before legal counsel obtains it. Who has the right to privacy if they were illegally texting/talking while driving?

Lee Gober & Reyna Auto Accident Attorney