Police granted right to search cellphone

Ontario's highest court has signaled that the right of police officers to look through someone's phone depends on whether there's a password.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario says it's all right for police to have a cursory look through the phone upon arrest if it's not password protected, but if it is, investigators should get a search warrant.

The court's ruling comes in the case of a man who appealed his robbery conviction, arguing that police breached his charter rights by looking through his phone after his arrest.

Kevin Fearon was arrested in July 2009, after a jewelry stall at a flea market in Toronto was robbed, and police found pictures of a gun and cash as well as a text message about jewelry on his phone.

The Appeal Court denied his appeal, saying that police were allowed to look through Fearon's phone "in a cursory fashion" to see if there was evidence relevant to the crime, but after that they should have stopped to get a search warrant.

The court says if the phone had been password protected or otherwise locked to anyone other than its owner, "it would not have been appropriate" to look through the phone without a search warrant.

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