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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Communications Law and Policy
Jerry Kang and Alan Butler