Now that texting and driving is illegal in Louisiana and in 33 other states (as of the writing of this article), how far can a police officer go if he suspects you of doing it? This particular law is difficult for the police to enforce, as this article points out. For one thing — and this may be surprising to many of you — the law in Louisiana doesn’t prohibit people from typing in their phones to enter a phone number, or even to search through their address book. Using your phone’s key pad is only punishable if you are actually communicating with someone via text.
So what happens if a cop thinks he sees you texting and driving and he pulls you over, only to have you swear you weren’t texting? “Officer, I was just dialing a number! Scout’s honor!”
What happens if he demands to see your phone to try to see proof of your activities? Is there is going to be a standoff between you and the officer?
TechCrunch writer Sarah Lacy asks: “Do I have to hand it over? If my phone has a password, am I obligated to type it in? If he starts getting pushy with me should I just start videoing the whole encounter as YouTube-revenge-backup-protection?”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a “Know Your Digital Rights” guide that outlines different scenarios relating to computers and portable electronic devices.
When you have been arrested, depending on where you live and the circumstances of your arrest, the police may be allowed to search your cell phone. The police can take anything on your person, in your pockets, purse, etc. As far as searching your phone goes, courts are in disagreement from state to state — some allow police to look through your call histories, texts and browser history EVEN without a warrant.
One thing I think is certain — to answer the question posed by TechCrunch — if your phone is password protected, you have no obligation to divulge your password, absent a court order. Your 5th amendment right to remain silent kicks in — you don’t have to say or type anything. No need to tape it for YouTube — just say “No”.
Be aware that if the police just pull you over but you haven’t been arrested, if they believe there is something illegal in your car they can search your phone, glove compartment, seat, etc., without a warrant. (Anything within reach of drivers and passengers.) But again, see above re: password protected phones.
Know your rights and stand up for yourself. But please, above all else, keep safety in mind — for your sake and for the rest of us. According to recent stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every day more than 15 people are killed and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver.