Cyber crimes have increased rapidly as computer technology has advanced. Individuals can conduct scams, hack into bank accounts, send threats and conduct many other criminal activities at the click of a button.
Consequently, computers often contain evidence which the police want to get their hands on. Can the police search your computer if they deem it to be necessary?
Search and seizure laws
Computer searches fall under the remit of search and seizure laws. Thus, the police generally need to obtain and present a valid search warrant before gaining access to your computer. However, there are some exceptions.
If you consent
A police officer cannot search your house without a valid warrant unless you give them permission. The same applies to computers. If you are in a public library for example and the police ask to search your computer, you can refuse.
On the other hand, if you offer consent, then the police may be entitled to search your device. Consent can be interpreted in different ways, which is why it’s so important to utilize your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Even an utterance such as “Sure, I have nothing to hide” could count as consent not only to search your device but to seize it as evidence.
The presence of probable cause may also give law enforcement the legal authority to search your computer. For example, if they have received reports of unlawful transactions being conducted from a device in your location, and upon arrival, the screen shows a banking app with multiple transactions taking place, this could amount to probable cause.
Probable cause has to be more than a mere hunch. There should be compelling evidence that criminal activity has taken place in plain view.
You have constitutional protections from unlawful computer searches. If you believe that evidence has been obtained unfairly, it’s important to look into your legal rights.