Ontario Court Allows Police to Look Through Unlocked Phones Without a Warrant

The highest court of Ontario has indicated that it is a fair right of any police officer to go through a suspect’s mobile phone given that it is not password protected. The Court of Appeal for Ontario acclaimed that it’s okay for police to have a “cursory” look through the phone after arresting the suspect if it is not password protected, but in case it is, the investigators shall seek a search warrant.

The court announced its ruling in the case where a suspected robber appealed against his robbery conviction, disputing that police breached his charter rights by looking through his phone after his arrest. The suspect, Kevin Fearon, was arrested in July 2009, after a jewelry stall at a flea market in Toronto was robbed, and later the police discovered pictures of a gun, cash and several text messages in connection to jewelry theft on his phone. The Appeal Court denied his appeal, asserting that police is permitted to look through Fearon’s phone “in a cursory fashion” to check if it contains any evidence relevant to the crime, but it shall not inspect it any further without a search warrant.

Additionally, the court clarified that in case the phone had been password protected, or otherwise locked, “it would not have been appropriate” to look through the phone without a search warrant. The judges of Appeal Court referenced the decision to another murder case, when the judge did not allow evidence from a personal electronic device as it “functioned as a mini-computer.”

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