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EFF Releases 2011 Guide for Protecting Your Computer and Phone from Illegal Police Searches

Note: This article is part of our archive and is likely out of date.
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Have you ever wondered what your rights were or what you should do if the police want to search your server, personal computer, or mobile phone? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put together an extremely useful guide that can answer your questions, lets you know how to handle the situation, and what you should or should not do if a situation like this arises.

There is a separate one page PDF summary guide available to download from either of the links listed below for those who prefer the “short and sweet” version. Part of it can be seen in the image above…

Know Your Rights! (Whitepaper) Note: There is a six page PDF version of this webpage available for easy downloading and printing.

Protect Your Computer and Phone from Illegal Police Searches (EFF Releases ‘Know Your Digital Rights’ Guide to Your Constitutional Liberties) Note: The blog post about the whitepaper.

[via Geeks are Sexy]

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .

  • Published 07/6/11

Comments (11)

  1. Dave

    You’re title is Oxymoronic. If the search is ‘illegal’ then you have nothing to worry about, the ‘evidence’ is inadmissible. If the evidence is admissible is isn’t ‘illegal’. That blog may have been written by two attorneys, but they nothing about computer forensics. No forensic investigator worth his salt would show up without a properly authorized warrant. And any law enforcement person who shows up without one, asking to look at your computer isn’t a trained computer forensic investigator.

  2. Michael


    Well, unless the person read this article and thought about all these things, they probably would just be fearful and submit.

  3. Bobro

    what kind of situation could you be in with computer forrensics knocking on your door!! surely if your this far up to your eyeballs then you should already know this stuff…

    plus the police could come round asking to check your system without a warrent as it has to be issued by a judge and the bobby might want the search but the judge has not seen fit to authorise a warrent.

    I agree that if you have nothing to hide you could just let them look but at the same time if a copper asked me on the street if he could see my phone i would say no as i have some GREAT pics of my girlfriend i would rather not share.

  4. kevalin

    @Dave: “illegal” or not, more than one person has spent time – even years – in prison, waiting for some judge, or panel of such, to declare a search that in fact was illegal to BE illegal. Only on television do the suspects of crimes have lawyers who have all the time and resources in the world to make sure the local constabulary follows all the rules. And as Michael pointed out, the average person might well just have an attack of overwhelm and let the police search simply because they think they have no choice.

    As to the “if you’re honest, then…” school of thought, it only takes one item, unknowingly downloaded to your computer, to really make a mess of your day. My own “for instance” on that: turns out one of my nephews was downloading all kinds of illegal items, using his grandparents’ computer, whenever he and his parents came over for the day, a fairly common event, since they live in the same town.

    My folks, being in their seventies, had no clue (I only found out because I essentially caught the kid in the act)… but do you really think the Feds would necessarily care that it wasn’t them doing the downloading? Or that our little podunk town would think to send an “expert” if a rumor got around? I know my folks would’ve assumed the cops automatically had a right to search, and would give them permission to cut their throats for them, accordingly.

    “We live in interesting times,” and sad though it is, you really can’t afford to trust the good guys to do things the right way, what with so many budgets being on the line. All Americans should know their rights… but many don’t. That’s why articles like this are useful.

  5. Chronno S. Trigger

    The reason the EFF released this is the push for cops to search your phone at even simple traffic stops. Cops are taking cell phones if it is used to record them in public. They’re also going on fishing expeditions in search of any reason to arrest people that annoy them. Yes it’s illegal, no they don’t care. The EFF is putting this information in a nice, easy to read format so everyone knows their rights.

  6. Anonymous

    Be sure to NOT VOTE! Don’t pay attention to the law makers or even your own Constitution. And by all means, don’t protest or get involved either. Just go watch your latest episode of American Idol or whatever else “interests” you on the nearest glowing box somewhere. You might even do it while driving too! Make sure you pay attention the weirdo’s and idiots on those programs rather than anyone with any real power. After all, that’s why Hollywood is on the complete opposite side of the USA – so you don’t “watch” Washington!

    Most of you already do that and I want to thank you for it too. But for those of you who don’t, there will soon be some re-education centers built exclusively for your use. And EFF, you’re already on “the list”!

    Uncle Joe S.


  7. Bumpy Jonas

    Having been falsely arrested once – based on a false report given to an over-zealous police officer. I can attest that you’re better off respectfully declining ANY request for information from the authorities.

    In my case, the case was thrown out and was quickly expunged, in part because I respectfully told the officer “seeking the truth” that I was “uncomfortable providing any information outside of the presence of a lawyer.”

    He got a bit grumpy, but when it came time to go to trial, the officer didn’t show up, neither did the perp who falsely accused me, and the D.A. punted (and hard).

    The lawyer said that because I was flat-out innocent, not saying anything put the entire burden of proof on the officers & DA, who failed to mount a case because I kept my yap shut.

    Nope, I didn’t have anything to hide. Nope, they didn’t have anything they could attempt to twist into something to hide.

  8. tommy2rs

    Anyone else think the officer friendly graphic would make a good cellphone wallpaper? ….lol.

  9. A

    I am a special master for a court system that appoints special masters to perform forensic searches. I have searched many hard drives, and I have found very few that don’t have something pornographic on them. Many browsers and service providers download graphics whenever an email is opened. These may be stored almost anywhere and the user may never be aware of them. I see it all the time. Many users don’t want porn and do their best to avoid it. As everyone knows, avoiding porn is almost impossible. Proving you aren’t into child pornography is very difficult. My advice. Don’t give the cops anything more than they have a right to have.

  10. Rick S

    Cop came to my door and asked to search my house and computer for child porn.
    He didn’t have have a warrant and I didn’t have anything to hide so I let him.
    He was polite and said he was sorry for putting me through this after the search.
    All it took was a drunken idiot to say I had child porn and they had to check it out.

    I’m sure if I said no they would have got a warrant and would have turned my house upside down and grabbed the computer anyway.

    I really don’t care if they search my computer but it would be a lot nicer if they sent a good looking lady cop next time. lol.

  11. J Mike C

    it clear that our society is run by lawyers. It is furthermore clear that ignorance of our rights and the application of the laws in this country is sadly the rule and not the exception.

    Articles like this are always welcome. For those of you familiar with judicial misconduct and the resulting abuse of execution such an article may be a waste of bits. But remind yourself how your last exchange went with your neighbor, and how you marveled at how they had survived all these years with a mental capacity of a small marcupial. Some folks need to be reminded, regardless of the probability of such an occurence the information is valuable.

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