By: South Sound Law Group

Can the Police Search Your Cell Phone?


Today’s cell phones are essentially computers, which can hold critically important information about the phone’s owner. That includes contacts, social media messages, email, texts, phone call history, and even financial information and internet history. It’s easy to understand why police might want to look at someone’s phone. Here’s what you need to know about police officers’ rights and cell phone owners’ rights. 

Do Police Need a Warrant to Search Your Cell Phone?

The answer is mostly yes. The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees people protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. In Washington State, a warrant is usually required.

There are some exceptions to that. For example, if someone is fleeing the police or a crime scene and leaves their cell phone behind, police are allowed to search the phone without a warrant.

A recent ruling in Seattle’s U.S. District Court also prohibits police from using information they can see on a phone’s lock screen without a warrant. Any data or messages that appear on that screen cannot be used without a warrant. That includes police taking screenshots of the lock screen before having a warrant. No warrant, no lock screen data. 

Can Police Get My Information from My Cell Phone Company or ISP?

Federal statutes regulate what government officials of any kind, including police officers, need to retrieve a person’s information and data from cell phone companies or internet service providers (ISPs). Search warrants are required before these companies can release that information to government authorities. They’re also required to obtain only information and data as clearly specified in the warrant.

Let Us Advise You

If you or someone you know believes your cell phone has been seized and/or searched without a proper search warrant, call us at 253-383-3328 as soon as possible. Your constitutional rights may have been violated, and working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help protect you and resolve the situation.