A United States judge has ruled that the FBI violated a man’s constitutional rights by looking at the lock screen of his smartphone and taking a picture.
According to this court ruling, law enforcement agencies in that country need an order to take a look at the phone’s lock screen.
The case was brought before the judge after the man’s attorney filed an appeal to have the evidence obtained through the lock screen invalidated, claiming that the police needed a court order to look at the screen. The judge agreed.
Joseph Sam was arrested in May last year, charged with robbery and assault. One of the arresting officers turned on his phone and glanced at the lock screen. This act, according to the court ruling, may have been constitutional.
Seven months after Sam’s arrest in February 2020, the FBI retrieved his phone from inventory, turned it on, and took a picture of the lock screen. This also violated Sam’s rights, according to the judge.
The government tried to argue that a phone’s lock screen is public to anyone who turns it on, so it’s not a private thing. The judge rejected this argument saying that this does not matter “when the Government obtains evidence by physically invading a constitutionally protected area.”
“The FBI physically meddled in Mr. Sam’s personal effects when the FBI turned on his phone to take a picture of the phone’s lock screen,” the judge ruled. That means the FBI carried out a search without a warrant.