Your computer, your phone, and your other digital devices hold vast amounts of personal information about you and your family.
Can police officers enter your home to search your laptop? Do you have to give law enforcement officials your encryption keys or passwords? If you are pulled over when driving, can the officer search your cell phone?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has answers to these questions in their new “Know Your Digital Rights” guide, including easy-to-understand tips on interacting with police officers and other law enforcement officials.
“With smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops, we carry around with us an unprecedented amount of sensitive personal information,” said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. “That smart phone in your pocket right now could contain email from your doctor or your kid’s teacher, not to mention detailed contact information for all of your friends and family members. Your laptop probably holds even more data – your Internet browsing history, family photo albums, and maybe even things like an electronic copy of your taxes or your employment agreement. This is sensitive data that’s worth protecting from prying eyes.”
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures, and this protection extends to your computer and portable devices.
The EFF guide outlines various common scenarios and explains when and how the police can search the data stored on your computer or portable electronic device – or seize it for further examination somewhere else – and gives suggestions on what you can and can’t do to protect your privacy.
“In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to remember what your rights are and how to exercise them,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. “Sometimes police can search your computer whether you like it or not, but sometimes they can’t. We wrote this guide to help you tell the difference and to empower you to assert your rights when the police come knocking.”