Nowadays, every detail of our personal lives is stored on our electronic devices.
This means personal facts, bank information, and much more are saved in our phones and laptops. For this reason, police now need a warrant in order to search your computer and hard drive in most cases in California.
The U.S. Supreme Court established the notion that people have the right to privacy in their electronic devices and computers in the recent Riley v. California case. Due to the nature of the ways which we store information in our computers, it is important that we have certain rights to the way that a police officer can search a computer.
Now, most police searches will require a search warrant in regards to searching a computer. Police must go to a judge and show probable cause in order to get a warrant. The officer must be able to show that the search of the computer will yield evidence regarding a crime.
As always, there are exceptions. Police officers are able to search and/or seize your computer, flash drive, or tablet without a warrant in the following circumstances.
There is a legitimate emergency that justifies the search;
You are bringing your computer across an international border;
You consent to the search or seizure;
The police believe evidence on your computer will be destroyed if they do not seize the device;
Another person with authority over your device gives the police consent. This can include consent from a roommate or housemate, family member, or even boss if it is your work computer.
Knowing your rights regarding search warrants is important if you are faced with a search or seizure of your computer.