Fourth Amendment Under Siege

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, right? Then why are local police forces across America starting to use a new product, called “Cellebrite,” to extract personal data from the cell phones of motorists they stop for routine traffic infractions? We asked Tampa Criminal Defense lawyer Barry Taracks, president of the law firm of Taracks & Associates, to discuss how this device might impact you and your Constitutional rights.

“This device – Cellebrite – can download your text messages, pictures, and GPS data of just about virtually any major brand of cell phone. The machine is handheld and can bypass security passwords to access your information. The problem I see with this is that this allows the police to warrantlessly obtain your personal data without any probable cause. I’m worried that this could result in police stopping a motorist for say, driving 5 MPH over the speed limit, and then pulling their personal data and accusing them of another more serious crime. This could be anything – an incriminating text message or GPS data from your phone that puts you at the scene of a crime. It could even include your private pictures. This is really scary stuff.”

So how do police justify this intrusion? “The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures. The police have to obtain a warrant from a judge in most situations if they want to search you, absent a few widely known exceptions. The loophole I think cops might be trying to use is the reasonable expectation of privacy test – under that doctrine, police can search places where you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, meaning anywhere that you have shared information publicly, or in a place where police could see information openly. An example of this is a ‘pin register’ on a payphone. Courts have held that police can access the numbers you dial on a payphone without a warrant because you have essentially already shared this information with a third party – the phone company. I would imagine that local police are using this same rationale here – you shared your texts and data with your mobile phone carrier already when you sent them via satellite to your friend. The problem I have with this is two-fold: first, why search people this way randomly? It’s intrusive and unnecessary. Second, much of the data being pulled off these phones has not been disseminated to a third party – it could just be personal data, i.e.; pin numbers for credit cards, private photos, or even ‘sexting’ data. The bottom line is that this is overly invasive and has to be put to a stop or severely curtailed.”

This device sounds like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie, but the truth is this is very real and happening all over America. The Michigan State Police have already implemented this technology in their regular patrol. Could your city or state be next? “It’s a slippery slope. Clients have already begun to tell me stories that lead me to believe this technology is already being implemented here in the State of Florida. We have seen people who have had their phones seized following an arrest – why are they being taken, forcing me to formally request that a Judge release the property back to the client? This equipment is being used and possibly abused by law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies all over the country. This is the sort of invasive behavior I think the founders of this Country were worried about when they adopted the Fourth Amendment. That Amendment was actually a direct result of the broad and ambiguous warrants that were used by the British during the Revolutionary War. Our Country was founded on privacy and individual rights, and I think that this device is a travesty. Hopefully it is severely curtailed soon, before it does any more damage to the rights of a citizen of this Country.”

For more information on Cellebrite visit

The law firm of Taracks & Associates is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Mr. Taracks can be reached at the law firm of Taracks & Associates at 813-281.2897. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, contact Mr. Taracks today for a free consultation. Taracks & Associates – The Advocate For You.

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