Vermont bill would allow police to seize cell phones without warrant

An amendment to Vermont's distracted driving law would allow police to seize mobile devices from drivers without a warrant.
An amendment to Vermont's distracted driving law would allow police to seize mobile devices from drivers without a warrant.

A Vermont legislator who introduced a draft law allowing police officers to seize mobile devices without a warrant told a local news outlet that he hasn't “really thought about” how to limit officers from taking advantage of the warrantless searches that would be allowed under his bill.

The proposal, H.527, is an amendment to a statewide distracted driving law passed in 2014. Vermont State House Representative Martin LaLonde told the Burlington Free Press that his intention was not to allow police officers to seize a driver's phone for further examination in the officer's police car.

LaLonde introduced the bill to help authorities enforce a law that outlawed the use of hand-held devices on highways. However, he said he doesn't know if the proposal can successfully “thread the needle” by creating stronger law enforcement tools while protecting privacy.

To date there is no legal precedent of a state that allows authorities to seize mobile devices from drivers during traffic stops. Privacy advocates oppose legislation that provides authorities with cell phone data without the use of a warrant. Local law enforcement authorities increasingly rely on the use of cellphone data, primarily gained through surveillance of mobile devices, such as the controversial Stingray devices.

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