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Massachusetts High Court Allows Limited Warrantless Search of Cellphone Call Logs

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that no search warrant is required to check the recent call list of a flip phone seized during a lawful arrest. However, the Court in Commonwealth v. Phifer emphasized that the ruling is narrow and fact-specific. Different facts, a more invasive search, or a more complex phone could result in a different outcome, said the Massachusetts high court. In the case, police witnessed a drug deal, arrested the dealer, and then checked the phone's call log for evidence of recent drug sales. The Massachusetts Court analogized searching the phone in these circumstances to searching a container that could contain contraband. The Supreme Judicial Court issued a similar ruling in a contemporaneous companion case, Commonwealth v. Berry. In a previous Massachusetts case in which EPIC filed a "friend of the court" brief, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that sensitive data obtained from GPS tracking requires a search warrant. For more information, see EPIC: Locational Privacy and EPIC: Commonwealth v. Connolly.

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