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EFF Issues Tips On Protecting Devices From Police Searches

Know your rights when it comes to protecting your computer devices from illegal police searches.

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Are you hiding some incriminating evidence on your phone, and you don’t want the police, who happened to pull you over in a random traffic stop, to search it? You don’t have to submit to them unless certain conditions are met. While such information may or may not be common knowledge, knowing the specifics of how to protect your device (computer, phone) are important. Thankfully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has you in mind.

The EFF recently posted a tips page on how to protect your computer and your phone from illegal police searches, and while some of what they offering is rumored to work, seeing it in writing should instill some confidence. EFF’s biggest tip? Say no. Say no to police who want to search your devices unless they have a warrant. No warrant, no search. It really is that simple. Sure, there are other tips and ideas EFF shares, but the key component is to say no. The EFF also created a Q and A page called “Know Your Rights,” featuring a number of useful tips and ideas of how to handle such requests. An example of EFF’s advice:

Q: Can the police enter my home to search my computer or portable device, like a laptop or cell phone?
A: No, in most instances, unless they have a warrant. But there are two major exceptions: (1) you consent to the search;1 or (2) the police have probable cause to believe there is incriminating evidence on the computer that is under immediate threat of destruction

And:

Q: Do I have to cooperate with them when they are searching?
A: No, you do not have to help the police conduct the search. But you should not physically interfere with them, obstruct the search, or try to destroy evidence, since that can lead to your arrest. This is true even if the police don’t have a warrant and you do not consent to the search, but the police insist on searching anyway. In that instance, do not interfere but write down the names and badge numbers of the officers and immediately call a lawyer.

Again, most of this is approaching the “common sense” territory, but still a refresher course never hurts. As for the EFF’s motivation behind these tips, the following quote from Marcia Hofmann has more:

“In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to remember what your rights are and how to exercise them,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. “Sometimes police can search your computer whether you like it or not, but sometimes they can’t. We wrote this guide to help you tell the difference and to empower you to assert your rights when the police come knocking.”

Essentially, EFF is offering a reminder to those of you who might think the police can search whatever they’d like without your permission. Granted, if a warrant enters the scenario, it really won’t matter what your disposition is, but until that point, the EFF reminds you that you have options. They also created a one-page summary (PDF) for those of you who may want to post it somewhere as a reminder. Over at LaughingSquid.com, there is a screenshot of the tips page if PDF’s aren’t your thing:

EFF Chart

Ignorance is normally not an excuse for, well, anything, and with the EFF’s chart, hopefully some of it has been cleared up for you.

EFF Issues Tips On Protecting Devices From Police Searches
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  • JM

    Never talk to the police even if you are innocent. NEVER. They’ll twist your words in court and can your a..

    Ask for a lawyer immediately. Most people just spill the beans first and then ask for a lawyer.