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Senate Bill Prohibits Police Searching Cell Phones, iPads Without Warrant

February 12, 2013 - 6:00pm

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has filed a bill that would prohibit law enforcement from seizing or searching portable electronic devices without a search warrant.

Senate Bill 846 also would require a search warrant before a portable electronic device can be tracked, in most cases by a government entity.

The Fourth Amendment protects Floridians against unreasonable search of their papers and effects, Brandes stated in a release. In todays increasingly paperless world we are seeking to clarify that cell phones and tablets are the modern version of papers and effects.

The bill would allow exceptions for national security, the search of a missing minor, and established lawful exceptions to existing search warrant statutes.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, is expected to file the House companion bill.

Privacy is a fundamental right that we as legislators need to protect, and with technology changing rapidly I believe that we need to revise our laws to protect our citizens, Trujillo stated.

Expect the bill to undergo extensive legal analysis if it is to advance.

Last March, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit rejected an argument that police violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches after officers in Indiana searched cell phones found at the scene of a drug bust for numbers.

The numbers helped in the conviction of one of the suspects who was sentenced to 10 years.But the ruling didnt fully answer how far an officer could explore into the contents of the phone.

Judge Richard Posner, a 1981 Ronald Reagan nominee writing the opinion for the three-judge panel, compared an individual's cell phone to a diary.

As with a wireless device, an officer can open a diary to copy an owners address, but they are prohibited from searching through files as they would be from examining writings inside the diary, he wrote.

"If police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy the owners address, they should be entitled to turn on a cell phone to learn its number," Posner wrote.

"If allowed to leaf through a pocket address book, as they are (United States v. Rodriguez, 995 F.2d 776,778 (7th Cir. 1993)), they should be entitled to read the address book in a cell phone.If forbidden to peruse love letters recognized as such found wedged between the pages of the address book, they should be forbidden to read love letters in the files of a cell phone."

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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