Police Searches of Personal Electronics

By asekine at 2:46 pm on February 6, 2009 | 1 Comment


In June 2008 Florida Highway Patrol officer John Wilcox pulled over Ariel Quintana for speeding, who was then discovered to be driving with a suspended license. The officer also suspected Quintana of being in possession of marijuana, but a search of the car revealed nothing. While in custody, Quintana’s phone rang and officers removed the phone without permission and started searching the contents of the device.

While going through the photo album, pictures were discovered of what appeared to be marijuana plants in a grow house. This resulted in a raid of Quintana’s address, which led to the seizure of over $850,000 worth of marijuana plants.

This is not the first case where a personal electronic device was searched without warrant that resulted in further evidence being used against a suspect in custody for an unrelated crime. Given the increasing presence and integration of personal electronics in every aspect of our lives, PDAs and cellphones can provide the most intimate details about their owners. As such, there is debate about whether the owners’ privacy should be protected given the nature of the information they contain, or if they should be considered containers and/or accessories for crimes which police should be able to search for further evidence for use in court, without the need of a warrant. As the article indicates, courts are split on this topic and there is still much debate about how these cases should be handled.

In order to prevent future incidences such as this from occuring again in the future, politicians and courts have to agree upon which circumstances searching digital devices is allowed, if at all.Given the nature of the types of information and data stored on personal devices, laws dealing with them must adapt to take the sensitivity of this information into account. The number of cases such as this will only increase with time, and policies need to be introduced to deal with this increasingly relevant issue. Individuals need to be aware of their rights, especially given the information at stake

Filed under: Current Events,Policy,Privacy1 Comment »

1 Comment

  • 1
    Get your own gravatar for comments by visiting gravatar.com

    Comment by Zac Fleischmann

    February 13, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    I think the case you described would be included in the “search incident to arrest” category. In most cases, a suspect who is under arrest can be searched without a warrant.

    Another issue is whether a person can be required to provide a password to assist such a search, or whether that would violate the suspect’s freedom from self-incrimination. In this case, it seems that the phone wasn’t password-protected.

RSS feed for comments on this post