Police Now Allowed to Search Your Smartphone Without Warrant if Not Protected by Password

In 2010, a man named Kevin Fearon was arrested for armed robbery.

Upon his arrest, police frisked him. They found his cellphone. And they accessed it, looking at his photos, contacts, and call and text history. In their search of the mobile device they discovered photographs of a gun and cash as well as “an incriminating text message.”

He seemed doomed, but his defence lawyers played the angle that all evidence extracted from his smartphone should be excluded because searching the device without a warrant was “a breach of his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.” While smartphones aren’t exactly brand new, it remains a legal grey area. Prosecution argued the opposite of the defence lawyers, of course—that cellphones, however deeply personal they may be, fall under the umbrella of “search incident to arrest.”

Well, that court case is now closed, and that grey area has become a little more black and white.

A new ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal has found that it is lawful for police to search through your cellphone if you are under arrest—but only if the device is not protected by a password.

That’s right: if your phone doesn’t require a passcode to access, police are allowed to rummage through your contacts, photos, texts, everything. If it is password protected, however, the police require a warrant to search it.

Just something to keep in mind should you plan on committing any crimes in Canada.