EFF's 21st Century bust-cards

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's new 'Know Your Digital Rights' guide is a bust-card for the Twenty-First Century, explaining your rights when it comes to searches of your phone, computer, laptop and other devices.
"With smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops, we carry around with us an unprecedented amount of sensitive personal information," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "That smart phone in your pocket right now could contain email from your doctor or your kid's teacher, not to mention detailed contact information for all of your friends and family members. Your laptop probably holds even more data -- your Internet browsing history, family photo albums, and maybe even things like an electronic copy of your taxes or your employment agreement. This is sensitive data that's worth protecting from prying eyes."

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures, and this protection extends to your computer and portable devices. In EFF's "Know Your Digital Rights" guide, we outline various common scenarios and explain when and how the police can search the data stored on your computer or portable electronic device -- or seize it for further examination somewhere else -- and give suggestions on what you can and can't do to protect your privacy.

"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."

EFF Releases 'Know Your Digital Rights' Guide to Your Constitutional Liberties

Know Your Rights! (PDF)

Tips for Talking to the Police (PDF)


    1. Second that request … although the way the Harpies are governing we may not need one to know we have no rights.

    2. I’d love a similar summary from EFF Australia, for that matter. I know a couple of lawyers, but cant seem to pin them down on what the police can actually do with my phone/etc if they choose. Do they need my permission to try to use it? Can I be charged with an offense if I refuse to give them the unlock code? Am I allowed to first call my boss and ask/tell them that company confidentiality is about to be violated? Do their powers vary depending on whether it’s a random traffic stop or whether I’ve been formally arrested?

      A more interesting scenario: If I do call my boss and let them know about the confidentiality issues, and they remotely wipe my blackberry/change the password, am I or the company liable for that? As an sysadmin, I’d be locking the phone remotely until a warrant arrived, but I have no idea about the implications.

  1. Didn’t the Supreme Court just rule that police don’t need a warrant to search your phone?

    1. This is covered in the PDF, though their answer is “Maybe”. If you’re under arrest or they have probable cause to search you (including your car if you get pulled over), they may be able to search your phone. It depends on the jurisdiction in which you live.

      In the case of the image shown, though, that’s when they simply ask if they can search it. Same as just asking if they can search your car or house. If they ask, you can (and probably should) always say no. If they have a warrant or otherwise have the legal ability to search you, they won’t ask – they’ll inform you maybe, but then just do it.

      That should really be the takeaway message – you don’t have to cooperate with the police if they’re simply asking you (though you should be polite to avoid trouble). It’s always been that way, but most people don’t understand that. This information is just clarifying how this extends to things like cell phones and computers – which, as should be obvious, is still contentious and being tried in court.

  2. May I suggest that some make a sticker with this info? I would like to affix one to my notebook computer for when I travel.

  3. Okay, say that they ask if they can search my phone and I say no. Do they have a right to just confiscate it? What about take an image of the contents of it?

    Of course, having father who is retired HPD I know from his experience that the reality is that you’ll probably get the business end of a nightstick until you give your consent.

  4. This would be useful as an Android app. Whenever a police wants your phone you either have the phone and thus can read the EFF advice or you don’t and the problem solves itself. Besides, picking up the phone to quote the EFF text to the officer seems sarcastic enough to please the phone owner but not enough to get one into trouble with the office.

Comments are closed.