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Smartphones & carte blanche government fishing expeditions
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I have an iPhone.

I use it primarily to make calls and to text.

I didn’t start using it to take photos until my digital travel camera with a retractable lens stopped working in a dust storm in Death Valley. 

Occasionally I will use it to search the Internet in a pinch. Unlike on my iPad, I have not downloaded any additional apps. I also use it daily for the alarm function, a nice air-horn like buzzer that is impossible to sleep through.

You may not think that is a smart way to use a smartphone. I am obviously significantly underusing its potential.

I don’t use it to do my banking. I don’t purchase items using it. In short, except for a few photos and some text messages, you’re not going to find much on it that tells anyone a lot about me.

Part of it has to do with concerns about physical and virtual theft. Part of it has to do with not wanting to put all my personal information, financial and otherwise, within the confines of a 6-ounce collection of chips and plastic. 

But now there is another reason why it is not smart to make your smartphone all that smart about who you are and what you do – the government. Or more precisely the law enforcement arm of the government.

The Supreme Court recently heard two cases referencing the constitutionality of a warrantless search of suspects’ cellphones. In the San Diego case, the police searched a suspect’s phone hours after his arrest and found photos and phone-book entries that incriminated him in regards to a shooting.

While I am not going to shoot anyone and can understand why most people would have no problem with police doing such searches involving the “criminal element” to simply say you have no problem with it because you have nothing to hide is scary.

The real problem isn’t the patrol officer or the police detective. Instead it is the gate such a warrantless search opens for other government agencies law enforcement may share the information they find with. There is also a problem with the enforcement arm of agencies such as the IRS, and Environmental Protection Agency, and others that also happen to have their own SWAT teams having such warrantless access as well.

Again, if you’ve done nothing wrong, why worry?

Tell that to people who have been wrongly accused by federal law enforcement officers of running afoul of a bureaucratic rule that has felony or misdemeanor consequences.

Fishing expeditions are just that. They are trolling but have no idea of what they are hoping to hook.

If you think you are law abiding, guess again. Do you stop at every stop sign? Do you spit on the sidewalk? Do you water on the wrong day?  Did you make a purchase illegally such as an item with protected wood from Africa without realizing it? There are a long list of federal, state, and city laws that most of us don’t have an inkling of that exist.

Technology whether it is global positioning systems, drones, cameras, Internet data sweeps, and such make it all possible for law enforcement arms of the government that aren’t as high profile and under a microscope like police are to comprise your rights.

Nothing incriminating on your smartphone? Better make sure you text in sweet words. There are jurisdictions seriously considering making “bullying” a crime with the threshold for the definition of bullying surprisingly low.

It is never good for an agent of the government to operate in complete disregard of an individual’s privacy.

The Fourth Amendment exists for a reason.

The King George’s agents conducted warrantless wholesale searches of the homes of colonists in search of evidence of people who may not have been loyal to the government.

The requirement of a warrant in America isn’t aimed at protecting criminals but in keeping the powers of the government in check.

Probable cause to temporarily detain an individual —  established by simple infractions such as a broken taillight – should never give government agents a green light to compromise your privacy. Giving law enforcement probable cause to detain an individual that may allow them to run a warrant check or make visual observations in search of illegal activity is one thing. Giving them carte blanche is another.

The real crime is the growing willingness of Americans to allow their rights to be slowly chipped away at in return for a false sense of security.

It’s pretty tough to be free and safe when you make government’s rights automatically superior to those of the individual.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.