You know those annoying friends that grab your iPhone at parties and then think it’s cool to explore all your pictures, texts, phone calls, and every other crevice of your iPhone? Some people don’t understand that there’s this thing called privacy, and that you have to get permission to look through all that stuff. It’s in the constitution. Look it up.
Apparently the privacy laws that some people thought we had with our iPhones actually don’t apply to police seizures, as two recent court rulings have shown that it is totally legal for police to seize an iPhone and impersonate the owner. If your iPhone ever falls into the clutches of the police and they want to sext with your ex-girlfriend, you’re just out of luck because that’s totally legal.
A report from Ars Technica this morning revealed U.S. courts have ruled that some of the same privacy laws that apply to desktop computers do not apply to smartphones. The revelation came during a hearing for drug charges this year.
In November of 2009, police officers in Washington seized a drug dealer’s smartphone. Once the smartphone was in police custody, they decided to impersonate the drug dealer via text message to people in his address book, which then led to more drug busts. During the drug dealer’s trial they claimed the police had violated their privacy rights by intercepting, without a warrant, private communications.
As background for the legality of the polices’ impersonation though the cellphone, the judge referred back to a case in the 1990 when police seized a drug dealers cellphone and used it to gain info on other drug dealers.
A federal appeals court held that the pager owner’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure were not violated because the pager is “nothing more than a contemporary receptacle for telephone numbers,” akin to an address book. The court also held that someone who sends his phone number to a pager has no reasonable expectation of privacy because he can’t be sure that the pager will be in the hands of its owner.
Judge Penoyar said that the same reasoning applies to text messages sent to an iPhone. While text messages may be legally protected in transit, he argued that they lose privacy protections once they have been delivered to a target device in the hands of the police.
So police still have to seize your iPhone legally, but once it’s in their clutches they can do whatever they want. Bummer. Ars Technica goes on to explain how cellphones currently exist in a constitutionally grey area, which is well worth the read. Desktop computers are protected by a number of laws, yet as smartphones have adopted more of the PC’s functionality, laws have failed to keep up with the changing tech.
- Source Ars Technica