Colorado House advances bill that would allow police to search cell phones without a warrant

DENVER - The Colorado House advanced a bill that would allow police to search cell phones without a warrant in times of emergency Tuesday.

Finding the missing is often a race against time, but only a parent knows the crushing pain left when that time runs out.

"You look and see where the system failed your daughter and you try and fix it," said Greg Smith who traveled to Colorado to testify in support of the bill.

For Smith, that fail came in 2007 when his daughter, Kelsey, was abducted and murdered in Kansas.  It took Verizon four days to turn her cell phone records over to police.

"Once those records were delivered to the police they found my daughter's body in 45 minutes," Smith said.

If HB 1308 passes, police with probable cause would only need to show waiting on a warrant could put someone at risk of injury or death.

"If you don't have access to that person within 24 to 48 hours, chances are you're not going to find them alive," Smith said.

Denise Maes of the ACLU said the bill is an overreach of power.

"Even in rural communities judges are known to work 24/7.  Especially in these kinds of situations, a judge is a phone call away," said Maes.

Maes said the bill goes too far and jeopardizes privacy in the name of safety.  She told 7NEWS checks and balances are necessary and going through a judge ensures them.

"When you start going into individuals that may be potential suspects and start phishing for phone records among a variety of individuals, I think you've run some problems into the 4th amendment," Maes said. "I think expediency is not a reason to trample my rights or yours."

Law enforcement would have to go to court within 48 hours to show they had probable cause. Officers would have to obtain a court order saying the information was obtained lawfully, or they would have to destroy the data within 24 hours.

Warrantless phone searches raise policy concerns, but bipartisan sponsors of the bill insist it includes adequate privacy protections.

House Bill 1308: http://bit.ly/11zfxWJ