Protecting Your Data from the Cops

Presented at HOPE Number Nine (2012), July 14, 2012, 11 a.m. (60 minutes)

What should you do if the police show up at your door to seize your computer? If they ask for passwords or passphrases, do you have to turn them over? Can they search your phone if they arrest you during a protest? What about when you’re crossing the border? Your computer, phone, and other digital devices hold vast amounts of sensitive data that’s worth protecting from prying eyes - including the government’s. The Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures, but how does this work in the real world? This talk with help you understand your rights when officers try to search the data stored on your digital devices, or keep it for further examination somewhere else. The constitutional protections that you have in these situations, and what their limits are will be discussed, along with technical measures you can take to protect the data on your devices.


  • Marcia Hofmann
    Marcia Hofmann is a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where she works on a broad range of digital civil liberties issues including computer security, electronic privacy, and free expression. She currently focuses on computer crime and the EFF’s Coders’ Rights Project, which promotes innovation and protects the rights of curious tinkerers and researchers in their cutting edge exploration of technology. She is also a non-residential fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Prior to joining EFF, Marcia was staff counsel and director of the Open Government Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). She is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and Mount Holyoke College.


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