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Can the cops look through your cell phone?

Technological innovations have brought the practices surrounding search and seizure into question, as many people have argued that their cases involve illegal forms of the typical police habit. The problem is a constitutional one, stemming from the ways that Fourth Amendment rights interact with new technology like smartphones, DNA and global positioning systems. Many of the questions concern whether a warrant is necessary: Can a police officer search your phone to look for incriminating videos, texts, pictures and emails without a warrant? Can a car belonging to a potential defendant be tagged with a GPS tracker to determine if any criminal activity can be associated with that individual? Can a DNA swab be taken so that your chemical makeup can be placed into a database for past and future crimes?

This last question was answered by the U.S. Supreme Court after a case involving the state of Maryland was heard. According to that ruling, a person arrested for a serious offense can have her or his cheek swabbed for DNA. That information is then put into a database for unsolved crimes. One of the justices who sided against the allowance of this practice said that this means that a person who is arrested, either rightly or wrongly, will have her or his DNA in a system that could connect them to a crime that was not previously associated with that individual.

The question of GPS was tackled by the Supreme Court, too. In that ruling, the justices decided that a warrant would be necessary to place a tracking device on a vehicle. The questions surrounding smartphones has yet to be answered, though. Experts are expecting that the Supreme Court will address a case concerning the interactions between police and cell phones in the near future. Considering the fact that more than 90 percent of American adults own a cell phone, this decision will play heavily into several criminal defense cases throughout Maryland and the rest of the U.S. It's important to know your rights when it comes to what law enforcement is allowed to do to build a criminal case against you or someone you love.

CIO Today, "Is Your Cell Phone Data Being Used Against You?" Richard Wolf, Sep. 11, 2013

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