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Will Legal Counsel Be Allowed to Access Our Public Data Assistants (AKA Cell Phones)?

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The content within our Public Data Assistants, also known as our cell phones, have become a more prominent part of legal litigation as social networking continues to grow and as humans continue to grow more reliant on cellular devices as means of information, entertainment, and communication. Research now suggests that the use of cellular wireless devices may be just as important as the various things that can be found on them. Below is an example.

A claimant seeks damages, stating that he has suffered reduced cognitive function after an accident. However, his cell phone interaction may reveal information to refute his claim or otherwise strengthen it.

Similarly, a personal injury lawyer may want to discover cell phone activity to demonstrate a driver’s inattention to the road while investigating a negligent driving case. Likewise, an employment lawyer may be interested in how their opponents interact with cell phones while at work. This list continues indefinitely.

Of course, this now raises the question of whether or not legal counsel should be granted access to inspect and mine information from a cellphone itself. Before, the courts of Florida denied unrestricted access to such information without proof that the opponent was hiding information or failed to cooperate. However, this may not be the case with cell phones, where the focus of the analyses and requests are much different.

In a recent United States Supreme Court case, Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), one decision discussed how cellular devices may play an important role in our lives. In summary, the court suggested that cell phones have the ability to sum up a person’s private life, which can be “reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeled with dates, locations, and descriptions.”

In short, the decision regarding whether or not PDA’s should be accessible in an investigation remains complex. Florida case law states that there is no “one size fits all” in regards to cell phone discovery and that in several specific circumstances, cell phone investigations are available and may be pursued.