Know Your Rights: Online & Digital Privacy

Your computer, phone, and other digital devices hold vast amounts of personal information about you and your family. This sensitive data is worth protecting from prying eyes, including those of the government.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures, and this protection extends to your computer and portable devices. But how does this work in the real world? What should you do if the police or other law enforcement officers show up at your door and want to search your computer?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] has designed a guide to help you understand your rights if officers try to search the data stored on your computer or portable electronic device, or seize it for further examination somewhere else. Keep in mind that the Fourth Amendment is the minimum standard, and your specific state may have stronger protections.

Because anything you say can be used against you in a criminal or civil case, before speaking to any law enforcement official, you should consult with an attorney. Remember‚ generally the fact that you assert your rights cannot legally be used against you in court. You can always state: "I do not want to talk to you or answer any questions without my attorney present." If they continue to ask you questions after that point, you can say: "Please don’t ask me any further questions until my attorney is present." And if the police violate your rights and conduct an illegal search, often the evidence they obtain as a result of that search can’t be used against you.