Thanks to the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers do not have the right to just pick up your smart phone and start browsing through your search history or reading your text messages. While the Founding Fathers may have never been able to fathom a scenario in which your SnapChat account data was your private property, they still took efforts to protect your digital rights.

However, some are starting to wonder how far those constitutional rights extend. According to the ABA Journal, a Florida police officer attempted to use the finger of a dead man to get access to his phone and begin a search for evidence.

Do you have Fourth Amendment rights when you are deceased?

While the idea of a police officer trying to manipulate a dead man’s finger in order to get past the lock screen on his phone is gruesome, it’s actually not illegal. Your Fourth Amendment rights give you privacy protections while you are alive, but they do not extend past your death.

Ultimately, the attempt to get into the man’s phone was unsuccessful. Police argued that they had every right to attempt to search the phone, because a search warrant is not needed when the individual in question is dead. However, some are saying that the practice is at the very least unethical, and that it subjects the family of the deceased individual to unnecessary trauma.

The courts seem to be consistently coming down on the side of law enforcement in these scenarios. Various court rulings have concluded that an individual who has passed away can no longer assert their legal rights, and therefore there are not a lot of protections for the deceased person or their family members.

Technology and Fourth Amendment rights

At the time that the Constitution was written, property was considered to be physical — an item you could hold in your hand, land that you could walk on or a building that you could enter into. Today, property extends into the world of the Internet, where digital data is stored in an invisible — but powerful — cloud.

Fortunately, the Fourth Amendment still applies to digital privacy. A police officer cannot take your phone from your car after you have been arrested and begin searching its content without your consent or without a search warrant. Beware, however, because if they ask and you give them permission, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to start collecting evidence from your phone. 

Ultimately, knowing your privacy rights and how those rights apply to digital technology is critical. Any evidence that is collected improperly and violates your rights will be inadmissible in court, so this can have a significant impact on your case.

Understand the role that privacy plays when you are accused of a crime

If you are facing a criminal charge, you will want to guard your privacy carefully in order to prevent the police from collecting evidence that may be used against you in court. Prior to giving permission for the police to search your home or your property, you will want to get in contact with a criminal defense attorney who can help you navigate this situation. An experienced and reliable attorney will guide you through the process and advocate for your rights along the way.

Contact our law firm today to set up a consultation appointment and discuss the specific circumstances of your case.