Local artist reacts to law requiring warranted smartphone search

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A major Supreme Court decision Wednesday changes the way police can review information on your cellphones or smartphones.

The Supreme Court ruled that police must have a search warrant to go through your cell phone data during an arrest. Before police were able to search all the contents in your pockets including the cell phone, but the court said with all the information the devices can contain, there are more serious privacy concerns.

Related: Supreme Court limits police searches of cellphones

Chip Southworth thinks it's a great ruling. He is better known as 'Keith Haring's Ghost'. He is the artist who tried to remain anonymous after painting images on several traffic control utility boxes in the city to send a message of human rights. He was exposed in March after his arrest and admitted to the paintings, but never thought other aspects of his privacy would become so vulnerable.

"The police took my phone and at that point they had access to everything in my life," said Southworth.

Southworth says by gaining access to his phone police could track his family members, access his Facebook account, read his messages and go through 5,000 pictures he had saved on the phone's 64 gig hard drive.

The charges against Southworth were reduced to a misdemeanor. He says he's completed his community service and still has not gotten his phone back.

"They still have six bags that they took out of my house, but my cell phone being the most painful piece," said Southworth.

Police had a warrant to enter Southworth's home to arrest him, but now the Supreme Court's ruling states they also have to obtain a warrant to search through someone's cell phone data. Chief Justice John Roberts realized the impact it will have on law enforcement investigations, but wrote "Privacy comes at a cost."

"It sounds like it's happened enough times that the Supreme Court has taken notice. And I think that's important," added Southworth.

The ruling is also applicable to cases where an officer is pulling over a motorist for texting and driving. They will still have to obtain a search warrant to review data on the phone. Police have told us the texting while driving ban in Florida has proved difficult to enforce, but in cases where an accident leads to a death potentially because of texting behind the wheel, they file for a warrant.


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