Electronic Devices and Fourth Amendment Rights

Cellphone in hand

    The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was designed to safeguard American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. It ensures the right to privacy and security from government intrusion. However, there is a controversy regarding technological tools in this digital age and our citizens’ rights in criminal and civil legal matters. The advent of drones and electronic devices is an example of technology that has presented opportunities to intrude on our legal right to privacy.

Public Safety versus Civil Rights

    On May 14, 2015, Governor Rick Scott signed the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act. Florida Statute 934.50 addresses drone usage for searches and seizures. According to this statute, law enforcement is prohibited from using a drone to gather evidence by capturing images of privately owned properties, with the intent of surveillance, without a person’s consent. Drone usage is permissible under specified circumstances, such as probable cause that a crime is about to occur, to prevent imminent danger to life or property, or with a judge’s warrant. Outside of this criterion, evidence obtained or collected in violation of this act is not admissible for criminal prosecution in a Florida court of law.

   Various law enforcement agencies in Florida, such as Daytona Beach and other areas, have been utilizing drones to monitor crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic. From a drone, they can broadcast announcements via a loudspeaker to mitigate the virus’s spread by encouraging crowd dispersal. Although these are public areas, such as parks and beaches, these drones can read a person’s body temperature and detect sneezing and coughing. There has been an outcry from civil rights groups that this practice violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. It is construed as a warrantless search for obtaining private health information without consent. Civil rights advocates believe this could be opening the door for widespread private surveillance.

Privacy Rights for Cell Phones and Technology Devices

   The United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Riley vs. California, in 2014, that a cell phone obtained by law enforcement can be seized and held. Searching a cell phone’s contents and tracking persons without a warrant for probable cause is not permissible. Other microphone enabled household devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, records conversation and data. They can contain audio transcripts during the commission of a crime. They are powerful crime-solving tools; however, searching these devices without a warrant or the homeowner’s consent is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Florida State Legislature was scheduled to address House Bill 1457 to revise search and seizure laws regarding cellular phones and other electronic devices in the spring of this year. However, this bill was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration on March 14, 2020.

Know your Rights! Legal Protection against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures extends to Electronic Devices.

· If you are being investigated for a crime, have been arrested, or detained by a Florida law enforcement agency, you have a legal right to refuse a search of your electronic devices.

· You should not consent to the search of your technology devices without speaking to an experienced criminal law defense attorney.

We Solve the Toughest Legal Challenges

   The AP Law Group is committed to defending your rights. 

Attorneys Tania Alavi and Andrew Pozzuto are seasoned and fierce negotiators and trial attorneys. We understand your freedom and your reputation is on the line when you are charged or convicted for a crime. For all misdemeanor and felony charges, we vigorously pursue strategies to defend and advocate for our clients on the state or federal level.  

To learn more about The AP Law Group and how we can compassionately defend your rights, contact attorneys Alavi & Pozzuto to discuss your case. We have offices in Gainesville and Ocala, Florida. Call us at 352-732-9191.