Sandy Davis

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In a world where access to an expansive array of information is open and freely available from our back pockets, entrenched legal notions such as privacy and property come to the fore. More to the point, the Fourth Amendment test for balancing government and possessory interests plays an ever-expanding role in shaping how government agencies search and seize our electronic devices—or more precisely, our “virtual homes.”

When the government searches and seizes personal property, it must do so within the scope of Fourth Amendment reasonableness. When that personal property is an electronic device, such a search and seizure must be carried out in a fashion that is not only reasonable but comports with notions of investigative diligence and undue delay.

When the Supreme Court of the United States articulated its test regarding reasonable searches and seizures, it did so during an age when personal property was less intrinsically valuable to owners. Today, courts are confronted with the challenge of incorporating these traditional notions of Fourth-Amendment reasonableness into searches and seizures of personal effects that are intimately connected with personal identity. Fortunately, the judicial system has begun to slowly modify its test in light of modern technological advances in its attempt to keep abreast of a world that is blazing ahead on a path of technological change.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently joined both the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on this path when they reviewed the search and seizure of electronic devices in Rosenbaum v. State.