You pull over for a traffic stop and the officer asks for your license and registration, as expected. You provided the documents and then, to your surprise, the officer asks you to unlock your phone. Your caught off guard. Do you have to give the officer your phone? Will it look suspicious if you say no? Could the officer arrest you if you refuse?
Can police officers ask to see your phone during a traffic stop?
Technically, officers cannot look at your phone unless they get a warrant. But they can still ask to see the phone. Police have also found a workaround. Instead of going right for a warrant, they are using what is referred to as a consent search. Essentially, this means that if you consent to the officer searching your phone, they do not need a warrant.
You do not need to consent. You can say no.
But would you?
What do we know about these searches?
We know most people are likely to comply. A study published in the Yale Law Journal dug into this question. They found that over 90% of participants consented to a search. Why should we care? Our phones store an immense amount of data. Thousands of text messages, social media posts, location tracking and even prescription information.
So what should I do if a police officer pulls me over?
Be polite. Have your driver’s license and registration ready — that is something that the police can rightfully ask to see. But also be prepared to politely decline if they ask to see your phone.