Dutch Police Allowed Limited Searches of Smartphones

The police in the Netherlands can search a smartphone as long as it does not disproportionally infringe on the owner's privacy.
Police can search a smartphone, their access is restricted and they cannot read all data on the device, including full access to contacts, call history, messages and photos, according to a judgement of the Dutch Supreme Court on April 4, 2017.

The police searched the smartphone of a man who was suspected of smuggling cocaine via Schiphol Airport. On his smartphone, the police found incriminating evidence. According to his lawyer, the search of the smartphone was an infringement of the suspect's right to privacy (guaranteed under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). Because of this infringement, the lawyer argued, the evidence on the phone could not be used.

But in a ruling confirmed on appeal, the court determined that police had acted lawfully when they chose to confiscate and search the smartphone.

Limited violation of privacy

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court. In its judgment on April 4, the court agreed with the lower court that the infringement on the man's private life had been limited.

The Supreme Court did however note that if an investigation into a smartphone goes as far as to provide a complete image of the personal life of its user, the investigation could be unlawful, the court said. This can be the case if the police analyzed the data on a smartphone systematically with assistance of a technical system. If the police want to do this, they must first get permission from the public prosecutor or judge-commissioner.