Are Police Able to Search Your Cell Phone?

Published On April 26, 2011 | By Bill Rounds | Articles

Michigan State Police Search Cell Phones On A Massive Scale

Cell phones contain more private information about you and your activities than just about anything else. They keep track of where you are at all times, everyone you call or text, email, social networking, photos, videos, personal files and much more. Would you want strangers to have access to all of this data?

Michigan State Police have reportedly been downloading data from cell phones of motorists that get pulled over for minor infractions like speeding, as if 8 million warrantless requests to Sprint weren’t enough. They use a special piece of hardware to download all of the data on the phone, including information the user has deleted.

What makes matters worse, the MSP are refusing to turn over information about the data they extract, procedures to get the data or why they get data unless a fee of $500,000 is paid. Does anyone know the average ransom paid to Somali pirates?

Violation Of Anyone’s Rights Is A Threat To Everyone’s Rights

Even if you are a completely honest person and think you have nothing to hide, think again. There are over 10,000 recorded laws in the US. Most honest people probably violate the law on a regular basis whether they know it or not.

If the police have access to such huge amounts of data about you, it can reveal violations of obscure, bureaucratic laws that you have never heard of. Or, that data could provide circumstantial evidence wrongly implicating you in crimes you had nothing to do with. That is assuming that no police officer will make improper use of the data. If you have read a single article on CopBlock, you know that abuse is very possible.

Here is what you can do to protect yourself from overzealous police who try to search your phone without cause.

Police Can Search Some Things

The law allows police to do a quick pat down to check for weapons when they stop you. There is not much more that they can do to search you unless your give them permission or they arrest you.

Hopefully you can avoid arrest, but Michigan State Police officers might be very diligent in trying to get you to consent to a search of your phone.

How To Prevent A Search Of Your Cell Phone

The key is to politely refuse their request. One of the best ways to avoid giving consent is to clearly and politely say “ I do not consent to any searches.”

If they are asking, they probably don’t have enough cause to search your phone without your consent. Refusing to give consent alone cannot give police sufficient grounds to search without your consent. If they continue to search your phone, that search will likely be unconstitutional and any evidence obtained as a result of that search will be considered fruit of the poisonous tree and be thrown out.

“I Don’t Consent To Any Searches”

You should learn this phrase well and use it any time an officer asks to search you, your car, your backpack, your house, your wallet, or asks for your cell phone. Just because they ask for a cell phone does not mean that you have to provide it.

Knowing your rights is the best way to protect your private data from overzealous police. But the law and the government can’t always protect you. Here are some ways to have better cell phone security, especially if you plan on encountering law enforcement.

Protect Yourself

Don’t carry a cell phone. This may be useful if you are going to a protest or rally where you expect a heavy police presence, and it may be a good excuse for some people who want to un-tether themselves from the matrix. It probably won’t be practical for every day use or chance encounters with police.

Use a prepaid cell phone. If you buy them with cash and replace them regularly, they will not have a large amount of data on them. The less data available the better.

Regularly wipe your cell phone. Getting rid of old data on a regular basis will also reduce the data available. Every make of phone has a different way to do this so check with your phone company to see how.

Encrypt as much of your phone as possible. This can be very tricky because encrypted emails, secure text messaging, storing encrypted files, and anonymous web surfing are more difficult on your phone than your laptop. You may need a separate application to encrypt each type of data and not all phones are created equal in the security department. Fortunately, the Fifth Amendment protects people from revealing their encryption keys.

Use call forwarding services. This is not foolproof, but using a free or paid call forwarding service can reduce the amount of data stored directly on your phone, adding an extra step the Michigan State Police will have to take to get your data.

File an official complaint with the police department. Complaints about any officer that unjustly takes or searches your phone after you have refused consent may be the kind of record that will help someone successfully sue that officer or the police department in the future for improper conduct.

Conclusion

Michigan State Police are downloading the data on people’s phones on a massive scale. This kind of data mining can be prevented by people who stand up for their rights. Don’t consent to letting a police officer search your phone. Help them to better spend their time protecting people and property from real crime. Learn more ways to protect your private data to protect yourself from overzealous police and lots of other threats.

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About The Author

Bill Rounds is a California attorney and helps people use legal methods to keep their private information from becoming public. He runs HowToVanish.com and is co-author of the book How To Vanish.
  • Jenn

    Thanks for this helpful information, Bill!

  • John Q. Galt

    There’s no evidence for a massive scale data mining operation. The ACLU is just asking for documentation on how these few devices are being used.

  • Common Sense

    Can I get fries with this supersized order of paranoia?

    “downloading on a massive scale”? There’s no reports of these devices being used a SINGLE TIME, with or without a warrant. The ACLU has demanded information to FIND OUT how their being used, and the MSP basically are tired of their shit and told them they have to pay for the manhours needed to compile the info. Now the ACLU is throwing a tantrum.

    jesus, grow the hell up.

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  • kurt

    As a police officer in the state of michigan I find it hilarious that you actually think that we when we have you pulled over for speeding we are “secretly” downloading everything from your cell phone..LMAO. Man you guys must live sheltered lives.

  • Tim

    my wife was stopped for not coming to a complete stop. problem was that they saw my laptop in the back seat and took it to there car for about an hour keeping her there. next thing i know they copied everything on my hard drive. do you know of a way to keep them from doing that. i should have said that i was not there at the time. they where able to get by my password. the way i found out was my wife told me they hat it for an hour and they left it on
    help me stop this BS