EPIC, Coalition Amicus: People Retain a Privacy Interest in the Data on Lost Phones

June 3, 2024

In an amicus brief in United States v. Hunt, EPIC, the ACLU, the ACLU of Oregon, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued that under the landmark Supreme Court case Riley v. California, police must get a warrant before searching the digital contents of a cell-phone, even if the physical phone itself was abandoned by its owner.

The coalition brief described the increasingly sensitive content stored on cell phones and highlighted the fact that with cloud storage, a person who loses their cell phone often does not lose access to or a possessory interest in the data on that phone. Under the abandonment doctrine, a person loses a privacy interest in an item when they intentionally give up possession and control of the item. For example, under the doctrine, trash placed in a bin and brought to the curb can be searched by police without a warrant. EPIC and the coalition urged the court to for the first time apply Riley to the under-developed abandonment doctrine.

EPIC regularly files amicus briefs in Fourth Amendment cases involving digital devices. EPIC has recently filed amicus briefs in digital device privacy cases including O.W. v. Carr, United States v. Morton, and Wisconsin v. Burch.

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