Can Police Force You To Turn Over Your Phone and Online Records?

Thanks to the advancements of connectivity in technology, our phones have become personal vaults of information. From our bank account information to a constant GPS tracking system of our whereabouts, the online records in these smart devices can reveal a significant amount of private information we hold dear. If this information should be seized or stolen, the amount of damage to our reputations, financial security, and even careers could be devastating.

This is especially an issue when Florida law enforcement demands phones during a stop or investigation. Can the information found within our mobile devices be used to incriminate us? Do Miranda laws apply to these situations? Do phone carriers have to oblige such demands? All of these are critical questions that are still being explored and answered as the latest tech continues to advance.

Is My Phone Legally Considered Private Property?

In short, “yes” is the answer. Florida law recognizes that your cellphone is your personal property. Police do not have the right to simply grab your phone or make you give it over. Law enforcement must obtain a warrant to seize it or go through the information it holds.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects us from such illegal search and seizures. This does not mean a police officer cannot ask, but you do not have to give them access. The same goes for your wireless carrier. The Supreme Court made this clear in 2018, when deciding Carpenter v. United States, where it ruled that we have a right to privacy, even for digital records.

Can Police Force You to Hand Over Your Phone?

Police may be able to seize your phone, tablet, or even laptop under certain circumstances, and not have a warrant to do so. This typically occurs in situations where a child might be missing or they have your phone number associated with a recent threat of violence, like a bomb threat. Essentially, in situations that give them probable cause, they may force you to hand over your phone. They can also seize your smartphone if you are arrested.

Just remember, unless there is a warrant, you likely do not have to consent to them searching or taking your phone. If they do have the necessary court-ordered search warrant, understand they still have limitations. They can only search what is specified in the paperwork. If you are in any situation where your cell phone is being seized, warrant or not, contact an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney immediately.

Can Florida Law Enforcement Compel You to Unlock Your Phone?

If you must turn over your phone or it was seized, you may worry that you have to share your password or unlock it for the authorities. Again, you have constitutionally protected rights in this situation. Specifically, the Fifth Amendment applies to such circumstances. You do not have to unlock your phone because you may incriminate yourself, and the Fifth Amendment makes it clear that you have the right to remain silent and not do so. Whether the content of your phone is incriminating or not, you should have a highly trained Orlando defense attorney advise you first.

Keep in mind that the police will likely be able to break into your phone despite it being password-protected. Many departments have a technology-based division that can accomplish this, but you should still not make it easier for these agencies to gain access to your information.

Protect Yourself—Retain an Experienced Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Now

Smartphones and other devices are an extension of ourselves, a passport into every aspect of our lives. Knowing what your rights are when it comes to personal property and privacy is crucial when law enforcement attempts to gain access to this information. Unfortunately, this area of legal protection and rights is still in the process of being written and perfected. Not all officers understand this and they may unlawfully take evidence illegally.

The Orlando criminal defense lawyers at The Umansky Law Firm have over 100 years of combined experience that will inform you of your rights in this situation. As former Florida prosecutors at the state and local level, we have extensive knowledge of both sides of the criminal justice system, having tried hundreds of cases in Florida courtrooms. We dedicate ourselves to getting the best possible resolution to your case and ensure your rights receive their guaranteed protections under the law.

To arrange your free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (407) 228-3838 or contact us online 24/7.