If you are like most Americans, you use your smartphone almost constantly. In fact, according to reporting from CNET, the average person spends roughly one-third of awake hours on mobile devices. If you use your phone for work, you may be on it even more.
Members of law enforcement often want access to smartphones, as e-mails and text messages may contain evidence of criminal activity. If officers suspect your involvement in a white-collar crime, you may wonder if they can force you to unlock your phone.
A lag in legal guidance
As you probably know, technology advances at lightning speeds. The law, on the other hand, moves considerably slower.
Put simply, there is a lag between technology and legal guidance from courts. Still, if forcing you to unlock your smartphone would violate your Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights, officers probably cannot do so unless you give them permission.
The warrant requirement
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. To respect this right, officers often must obtain a warrant before searching you or your property. While there are exceptions to this requirement, the general consensus is a warrant is necessary for officers to go through your electronic devices.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from self-incrimination. If your phone has incriminating information and a passcode, officers may not be able to force you to unlock the device. This may be true even if officers have a warrant to seize the phone.
Ultimately, because the law is a bit fuzzy regarding your legal rights and technology, it is advisable to request legal counsel before turning over or unlocking your smartphone.