PA says txt messages are off limits without a warrant

    People use text messages to coordinate plans for everything from business meetings to birthday parties. And criminals are typing away on their phones, too. But, in a case stemming from March 2007 arrests, a Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled that police need a warrant if they want to intercept those letters, numbers, and emoticons.

    People use text messages to coordinate plans for everything from business meetings to birthday parties. And criminals are typing away on their phones, too. But, in a case stemming from March 2007 arrests, a Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled that police need a warrant if they want to intercept those letters, numbers, and emoticons.

    Listen:
    [audio: 090609lftext.mp3]

    The court ruled that Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law applies to text messages, and that police broke the law when they used a cell phone taken from two men who were arrested for drug trafficking and sent fake messages that drew in other suspects.

    Temple University constitutional law professor David Kairys supports the ruling.

    Kairys: Whenever you protect the privacy of regular people doing regular things – which I think is now fair to say includes texting on cell phones – once in a while that is going to result in someone get off on some charge. But I think overall that privacy protection is better for all of us.

    Kairys says the ruling goes along with a fairly long standing tradition in Pennsylvania of protecting privacy rights more than other states and more than the federal government.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.