Portland Law Firm Challenges Police Search of Cellphones

The Oregon Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge brought by JDL Attorneys LLP, a Portland, Oregon, law firm, against the warrantless search of cell phone data by police. The case, State v. Nix, will test how traditional police search powers operate when confronted with portable digital data on iPhones and other devices.

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The law always lags behind technology,” notes James. “Sometimes, we have to ask the courts to play catch up. How this case resolves may have a lasting impact on how we manage our digital lives

Portland, OR (PRWEB) April 25, 2011

JDL Attorneys LLP, a Portland, Oregon, criminal defense law firm, has brought a case before the Oregon Supreme Court testing how traditional police search powers operate when confronted with portable digital data on iPhones and other devices. The case, State v. Nix (Oregon Supreme Court Case No. S058751), which has drawn attention from various civil rights groups, challenges the warrantless police search of electronic data, and looks to place Oregon in the middle of a growing national debate about cellphone privacy.

As summarized by the Oregon Court of Appeals (A138483), on November 30, 2007, the Albany police were advised to be on the lookout for a specific car in which Mr. Nix, who was being investigated for drug-related crimes and was the subject of arrest warrants, was a passenger. After police stopped the car and arrested Mr. Nix, the police confiscated his cellphone. The trial court found that they took the telephone back to the police department and handed it to a lab technician. Then, without obtaining a warrant, the lab searched the entire data contents of Mr. Nix’s cellphone and found text messages and images implicating him in narcotics manufacturing.

Bronson James, a partner at JDL Attorneys LLP, challenged the warrantless search of Mr. Nix’s cellphone. “The reality of modern life,” says James, “is that our cellphones can hold vast quantities of data, from health and financial records, to intimate letters and photos, to emails, texts, and even a historical record of our GPS location. To allow the government to search indiscriminately through these devices puts our entire lives on display. When so much personal information is at risk, a warrant isn’t too much to ask.”

The case asks the Oregon Supreme Court to step into an already fierce national debate. Last year the Ohio Supreme Court, in Ohio v. Smith, No. 07-CA-47, held that cellphones and digital data were unique, and a warrant was required to search digital devices. But, in recent months, the California Supreme Court in People v. Diaz, S166600, reached precisely the opposite conclusion holding that cellphones were no different than purses or wallets, which have long been legitimate subjects of warrantless police searches.

The case has drawn national attention from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy organization. That group filed an amicus brief with the Oregon Supreme Court arguing against the warrantless search.

“The law always lags behind technology,” notes James. “Sometimes, we have to ask the courts to play catch up. How this case resolves may have a lasting impact on how we manage our digital lives.”

The brief filed in the case is available at the firm's website. The Oregon Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on May 4, 2011.

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