Infringements on the Fourth Amendment seem to be becoming the norm in our age, yet most of the greatest offenses seem to be either without or knowledge or against citizens involved in criminal activity. But the New Jersey state legislature is currently considering a bill that would require participants in automobile accidents to hand over their telephones with cause.
The situation would arise when anyone is involved in a car accident. Police officers would then by right, when they arrive on the scene, ask for your license, registration and cell phone. The officer could then search through telephone conversations, text messages, or emails to determine whether any negligence or recklessness had occurred on the citizen’s part. The officer may find it necessary to open up the person’s mobile banking app to see whether it was logged in or the officer may find it necessary to look through the person’s pictures to see if any were recently sent. Once a police officer, with no more legal training than the local police academy, is holding your cell phone where no one is looking over his shoulder and where he isn’t restricted by the language of a search warrant in his hand, anything is possible.
Every day, police officers use the search incident to a valid arrest or officer safety rule to search vehicles for drugs. This bill will allow some officers to search the phone for evidence relating to the crime but you can be sure that they will also be on the lookout for evidence of drug related offenses and other crimes. No matter what the language says, this bill could allow anything to happen with a person’s phone.
Forget that these types of records are fully accessible through search warrants to telephone providers. This law overbroad violates the Fourth Amendment which protects our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in our papers and personal effects with a search warrant based upon probable cause.
In this century, is there anything that amounts to our personal papers and effects more than our cell phones?
If a law like this is implemented in any state, it opens up every citizen on their way to work, school or church to a fender bender that results in a loss to their right to privacy. The law enforcement abuse in that state will be outrageous if officers can require such information so easily.
The information is already accessible through a neutral and detached magistrate’s search warrant. But without judicial review, the government should leave your personal items alone. This could become the exception that swallows the right to privacy rule.
But don’t worry, privacy will still allow you to kill a baby.