In a rare unanimous Supreme Court decision yesterday, all nine Justices agreed that, yep, searching your phone without a warrant is indeed illegal. So if a police officer ever does try to dig through your digital dirt unlawfully, this is what you need to do.
The often controversial Chief Justice John Roberts summed the whole thing up with a few delightfully biting lines in the court's decision:
The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what the police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple - get a warrant.
In other words, the law is on your side, and The Daily Dot put together a nice little primer on how to handle any unlawfully snooping cops. It all boils down to the following.
1. Keep your smartphone locked.
If they ask you to unlock it, you have every right to refuse. And this way, should you be stuck in handcuffs, they won't be able to pore through your phone even if they wanted to.
2. Calmly repeat the following: "I do not consent to this search."
Repeating the phrase means there's no room for any ambiguity. And staying calm means (hopefully) no angry officers.
3. If you're not under arrest, really don't consent.
While a warrantless search of your phone when you're under arrest is illegal, doing so when you're not under arrest is extra illegal.
4. If the officer still ignores you, whatever you do, don't get physical in any way.
If you're at the point where a cop has snatched your phone from you, you're probably in the middle of being arrested. And in those situations, physically intervening is just about the worst thing you can do. Remember the cop's name for later, because even if they find anything questionable, the cop can't use it if it was obtained illegally.
Of course, there are still some situations where a cop can lawfully search your phone without obtaining a warrant first. As The Daily Dot notes:
This includes, for example, the abduction of a child, when police suspect a person is in imminent harm, or "some imminent threat of evidence destruction."
Image via Associated Press