Legal Research Blog


Smartphones: Searchable by Police?

                In many states, courts have upheld the authority of police to search a person’s cell phone contents upon arrest, without a warrant. Now that many of us carry internet-capable smartphones, which hold vast stores of personal information, the rulings permitting such searches may need reconsideration. Courts find themselves at an intersection where emerging technologies meet old case law. New precedent is likely to result.

                An article in last week’s Law Technology News did a great job of framing this issue with illustrative cases. First, author Engel points out that states have upheld the legality of arrest even for minor offenses. In Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001) a woman was held to have been legally arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station after a traffic stop for failing to wear a seatbelt. She was returning home from soccer practice with her children. Then, this year, United States v. Curtis, No. 09-2049 (2011) held a man’s text-messages to have been legally searched and used to incriminate him in a mortgage fraud case, after he was arrested for an unrelated crime. In combination, these two cases justifiably make us fear the worst: we could legally be taken into police custody for a small infraction and then have some of our most private information scrutinized. Even without any wrongdoing on the part of the arrested person, this policy is an uncomfortable invasion of privacy and a potentially huge embarrassment.

                At issue here is the fact that modern smartphones are far different from the objects originally determined to be searchable by police during arrests. “Incident to arrest” searches were determined to not violate Fourth Amendment rights decades ago. These searches could include the defendant’s person and immediate personal property. The searchable items were then interpreted to include containers, and soon pagers and cell phones were being lumped into this “container” category in legal decisions. But ubiquitous new internet-capable smartphones may finally be making the point that phones are less like containers and more like personal letters – thereby qualifying for some court protection.

                Some courts have considered the new nature of cell phones in their interpretation, and thus limited authority of police to search them without warrants, notably the Ohio Supreme Court in 2009. But other states, such as California, have continued to treat cell phones as searchable containers.

                California has been one of the places where police searches of cell phones received significant attention this year, along with Michigan. The California Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding the right of police to search cell phone contents during an arrest. And, in Michigan, state police are using a customized piece of hardware to extract cell phone data from drivers during traffic stops. The ACLU in Michigan has taken action against the police for this apparent invasion of privacy. The Michigan police can reportedly retrieve all phone data – such as photo data and GPS location information. This reminds us of Apple’s recent scandal with iTracking users’ location data which we remarked on last week.

                While case law about the legality of cell phone searches continues to develop, perhaps the best we can do is to keep ourselves informed. And in the meantime, maybe we need to consider password protection or encryption for our mobile devices.

Get your vocal cords ready- Google Voice Search is (almost) here.

cc licensed flickr photo credit: Ian Kath

Just a month following Google’s widespread practical joke, their latest development for Chrome added last week is anything but. Google unveiled their speech recognition software and chose a select few to give it a test run. Adapted from the tool used on both Android and iPhone mobile devices, speech recognition software for the desktop requires little explanation: simply say what you’re looking for into the computer’s microphone and, voila – your search terms appear. Granted, none of the testers have issued a final review to confirm functionality but if the mobile app’s success is any indication, the desktop version should produce some satisfying results. Some are questioning the necessity of the software, a debate we’ve visited before, but in the case of speech recognition software, there seems to be an extensive list of reasons why we should be considering this the latest frontier.

Speech recognition software gives the computer user a rest from the aches and pains of typing and the curse of a low WPM score. Additionally, ReadWriteWeb suggests that the introduction of the software into everyday life could improve an individual’s comfort level with developing more effective search queries. Instead of typing and retyping lengthy strings of search terms to no avail, simply recite your queries as they come to you and let the software do the work. Finally, the software now recognizes Chinese in addition to English, meaning even easier and more accurate translation software is probably not far behind.

Google is waiting to roll out their speech recognition software to the public, undoubtedly to get feedback from their test users and make any necessary adjustments. We’re excited to hear what these lucky few have to say and also for the software to make its formal appearance. We do know that Google does not plan to keep the software for themselves – enabling developers to add the capability to their applications just as soon as they launch. Just another reason why Google was aptly named “Most Reputable Company” by Harris Interactive. Congrats!

Meet Denise, Our Senior Reference Attorney.

Did you know that all Fastcase users have free and unlimited access to reference support through Fastcase? Fastcase has a terrific team of research support staff comprised of technical professionals and research attorneys who are here to help you run searches and find the most relevant cases.

Denise Lauretti is the Senior Reference Attorney on the Fastcase customer support team. She has her J.D. from Boston College and twenty years of practice experience in Massachusetts and New Hampshire doing insurance defense work. She joined Fastcase as a senior reference attorney in January and oversees the Fastcase customer support team in Washington, D.C. We recently sat down with Denise to talk about how she and her team help Fastcase users every day.

FC: This is a time where legal technology is changing really quickly. What do you think the biggest challenges are right now in legal research?

DL: One of the greatest challenges is opening the field to more experienced lawyers who feel technology has passed them by. I hear from attorneys every day who felt that books were still the standard for research. Often, this is because traditional search engines are not as user friendly for someone new to the idea of online research. Fastcase’s intuitive interface makes the transition easy for those attorneys. The training offered is accessible and easy to use. Results are easy to understand and incorporate into every day practice. Additional tools such as the iPhone and iPad apps allowing access on the fly are important in today’s law practice.

FC: Is there such thing as a typical research question from a member?

DL: A user will call and say “I’ve been researching for three days, and I’m out of ideas. I don’t know what else to do.” More often than not, because we work with Fastcase every day, we are able to run a couple of searches and get them point them in the right direction. We are also able to suggest additional searches that may be helpful in narrowing down results going forward. We always encourage members to call us back if they need more help later. It’s an ongoing process.

FC: These aren’t the kind of things that many experienced attorneys learned in law school, right? Keyword (Boolean) search hasn’t been around that long?

DL: We had a week of training with Boolean searches during my first year and then used books. Even when online search options became available, training on the system was short and the support system was frustrating. Books were always the backstop. Fastcase’s engine, which returns results in the order in which they are likely to be useful is an innovation designed to streamline that process. The search tips that appear on the search pages are extremely useful for those of us less familiar with the Boolean search.

FC: How do you and your team help make time spent researching more efficient?

DL: We regularly help members get started with research, especially when they are moving into a topic that is unfamiliar. In speaking with members about the task at hand, we also have the opportunity to suggest time-saving tools that will aid in finding the right document faster. We know that for members, time is money – we aim to help save both.

FC: Thanks Denise!

Users may contact Denise and her team from 8AM to 8PM Eastern, Monday – Friday.

Phone: (866) 773-2782
Live Chat: Help| Live Chat

Next time you need help finding something, call us. 1-866-773-2782.

Former Justice Stevens to Write Book

Photo by onecle

Former Supreme Court Justice has a book in the works where he discusses his time working with five chief Justices- Vinson, Warren, Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts. In an interview with the Atlantic he says:

“I’m writing a book about the five chief justices that I’ve known, and I’ve got it almost done. I think I’m going to call it The Five Chiefs. It’s primarily personal recollections of each of the chiefs, and I also have some comments about some of their jurisprudence.”

With 63 years worth of memories to go through, Stevens should be able to put together an enlightening read for anyone interested in the judicial history of the United States Supreme Court.

Tablet Explosion

Photo by Roger Schultz

Ever since the introduction of the iPad, the tablet race has been fascinating to watch. Having all but obliterated the Netbook market (when was the last time you have heard anyone mention one, let alone be excited about one?), the market continues to grow as companies and developers find increasingly useful purposes for the devices. This week alone has seen two major developments.

This week Barnes and Noble took major steps to expand the functionality of their Nook Color E-reader. More expensive than Amazon’s Kindle, but half the price of Apple’s iPad2 the Nook at $249 seems to hit a number of high notes. Upgraded to include Android 2.2 “Froyo”, Flash 10.1 and a limited Nook specific app store the device seems to carve out a niche unto itself stressing both practicality and features at a reasonable price point. If you are an avid reader or would like to be, the device’s support for different document types (PDF, DOC, TXT, EPUB, etc.) make it an interesting choice.

Sony announced this week the introduction of the S1 and S2 tablet devices for this fall. Meant to compete against the likes of the Xoom, iPad2, Blackberry Playbook, and Samsung Galaxy the two devices take a different stance on design. The S1 takes on the standard tablet design while the S2 has a clam shell form factor reminiscent of Microsoft’s Courier tablet concept. Both the S1 and S2 are expected to use Android’s 3.0 “Honeycomb” build. Expectations are high for the devices (although apparently realistic for Sony executives) as the major new releases this year, while plentiful, so far have been underwhelming.

With the introduction or announcement of several high profile devices or upgrades, 2011 really does seem to be the year of the tablet. If you are interested in any of the mobile legal assistance software that has been released in the last year or so, you have many more hardware options than you think.