The ACLU of Montana and the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Montana Supreme Court arguing that courts must interpret state and federal privacy protections to protect against the disclosure of vast amounts of digital data contained on electronic devices.
In the case, defendant Bradley Mefford told his parole officer that the officer could read a Facebook Messenger thread on his phone in order to confirm his explanation for a purported curfew violation. But the parole officer did not return the phone after reading the relevant messages; instead, he proceeded to search Mefford’s photographs. That search turned up unlawful contraband, and Mefford was eventually charged with possession of that contraband.
The ACLU of Montana and ACLU argue that police should not be able to leverage someone’s consent to search limited information on their cell phone for a limited purpose into a search of anything or everything on the device for any other purpose.
“In Montana and in the Unites States privacy is a fundamental right,” said Alex Rate, ACLU of Montana Legal Director. “Police should not be able to search a person's digital device without clear consent and the scope of the search should be limited to the consent given.”
Co-counsel to the ACLU of Montana and ACLU National.
In Montana, Your Right to Cell Phone Privacy is Up for Debate
Authors: Jennifer Granick, Alex Rate, Brett Kaufman
Exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement must be narrowly defined to deter expansive, unjustified searches by law enforcement.