Does a Phone Search Warrant Include Cloud Services?

Posted by Josh Valentine | Jul 10, 2019

Phones and phone records are increasingly subject to search warrants when the police suspect an individual is involved in criminal activity. Unfortunately, the law has not kept up with the technology and it is unclear how much leeway the police have to search an individual's cloud services information after getting a phone search warrant. 

Are Cloud Services Part of the Phone?

Smartphones are often used more for accessing online services, social media, and communicating via text than for making phone calls. Many of these online services are “cloud-based,” meaning information, files, and data is stored remotely on servers that may be in a different city, state, or even another country. Even users may be unclear how much of this information is on their phones or if it is being accessed remotely. 

When the police seek a search warrant for a phone, the search request may or may not include a request for information stored remotely but accessible through the phone. If the search warrant does not include a request for access to cloud information available on the phone, it is unclear whether accessing that information would be valid. Some judges who regularly authorize these search warrants may not understand what information is stored physically on the phone, stored remotely but accessible through the phone, or is stored both on the phone and remotely. 

What Information Does My Phone Have About Me?

Use of social media, apps, and cloud services can end up gathering a significant amount of information on a user. Using things like Google Maps or Facebook can track your location, show where you went and when, and even show how much time you spent at a given location. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to know how to turn off tracking or information gathering. The technology companies may also be hiding just how much information they gather. There are plenty of valid reasons why you would not want others to have access to this personal information.

Does a Search Warrant of a Phone Include Cloud Information?

A professor at the UNC School of Government recently wrote about whether search warrants for phones may include cloud services. Arguments against allowing a phone search to extend to cloud services include the extent of personal information available on the phones for many people and could include information about a person's daily life since they were a child. 

As one court stated, “A warrant for the search of an individual's cell phone may, in some cases, be practically equivalent to a warrant for the search of the individual's entire digital presence wherever found.” 

Increasing Request for Digital Phone Records

When the police seek a search warrant for phone records, they may end up requesting multiple warrants, including a warrant for the physical phone, the device manufacturer to access a locked phone, the cell phone carrier, and for big data companies like Google or Facebook. 

What Are the Police Doing With My Phone After an Arrest in Shelby?

After an arrest, the police may seize an individual's phone or get a search warrant to access the phone and the phone's contents. However, just because the police have a warrant does not mean the warrant authorizes an unlimited search of your digital life. At Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC, we have helped individuals suppress evidence illegally gathered in violation of their constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure. Contact us today for a consultation.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar