NEW ORLEANS, LA — If you’ve been involved in a lawsuit, it’s likely that your opponent requested or obtained your cellular phone data. Plaintiff and defense attorneys both seek cellular phone data during the discovery period of your case, especially following a car accident. The most basic reason to access a driver’s cellular records is to help determine if he or she was distracted at the time of the accident, perhaps illegally texting and driving. This can help a fair and just resolution of a motor vehicle claim.
However, modern cellular phones are more accurately considered personal computers. If a law firm obtains full or even partial access to your cellular phone, they won’t just be able to determine if you were texting while driving. They could also potentially obtain such personal information as what medications you take, what internet sites you visit including dating sites, or your political or religious affiliations. The potential for an inappropriate and unnecessary invasion of a client’s privacy is such a serious concern that courts must consider the benefits of granting an adversary access to a citizen’s cellular phone, even in criminal cases.
The decision of one criminal case heard before the United States Supreme Court, Riley v. California has had strong implications for civil discovery. In Riley, the Court considered whether or not police could perform a warrantless search of a cell phone found in the pocket of an arrested person. Chief Justice Roberts, delivering the opinion for the Court, noted that “The storage capacity of cell phones has several interrelated consequences for privacy. First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information—an address, a note, a prescription, a bank statement, a video— that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, a cell phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. The sum of an individual’s private life can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions; the same cannot be said of a photograph or two of loved ones tucked into a wallet.” The Supreme Court decided that the potential violation of privacy as well as the broad scope of information contained within a cell phone’s “immense storage capacity” took precedence over all other concerns.
Almost immediately after this decision in a criminal matter, Riley was cited in opposition to civil discovery requests. A federal district court in Connecticut denied plaintiff’s request for data from defendants’ cellular phones in Bakhit v. Safety Marking, Inc, et al, stating in part that “The implication of the individual defendants’ privacy interests in the data stored on their cell phones also persuades the Court to deny plaintiffs’ motion. This conclusion is further reinforced by the recent Supreme Court ruling in Riley v. California, Nos. 13-132 and 13-212, 573 U.S. __ (June25, 2014), which recognized, albeit in the criminal context, the privacy concerns implicated by the modern cell phone.”
As technology continues to advance, lawmakers must endeavor to keep pace with new developments and consider the ethical obligations that new technology—whether it be cellular phone storage or genome sequencing—impose upon our society. In 1816, Thomas Jefferson warned that “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”
If you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident or otherwise considering or involved in civil litigation, it’s critical that you select a law firm that takes the advance of technology and the legal challenges it prevents as seriously as it takes the defense of your rights. The experienced attorneys at The de Boisblanc Law Firm understand today’s technological advances, and know how to use technology to your advantage without allowing your adversary to infringe on your privacy and rights.