Privacy rights: Police can search unprotected cellphone without warrant, appeal court rules

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has ruled that if a cellphone is not password-protected, police making an arrest can search it without a warrant.

On Wednesday, Justice Robert Armstrong, supported by two other judges, dismissed an appeal of an armed robbery conviction by Kevin Fearon, who agued his rights against unreasonable search had been breached.

After his arrest on suspicion of taking part in a Downsview jewellery heist in 2009, a police officer conducted a pat-down search and found a cellphone in his pocket.

Supreme Court allows warrantless cell phone searches

Warrantless cell phone searches are fair game during a police arrest and, conducted properly, do not violate Charter rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

That was the bottom line today as the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its landmark decision in Fearon v. R. — a case that, much to the chagrin of privacy advocates, has granted police powerful new search tools during arrest.

The case stems from an armed jewellery heist, in which police confiscated a cell phone during an arrest and quickly found incriminating evidence, including a text message and photo.

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