A parent cannot ask law enforcement to go through their child’s phones for them, unless that parent has already regularly searched the phone and knows its passwords.
The same situation applies to a child’s bedroom; you can’t ask police to search the room unless you are already doing so frequently.
Police can search a child’s phone or room if they have a search warrant.
Sergeant Matt Wilson with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office explained how the Supreme Court ruled on the issue.
“The Supreme Court has said that children have an expectation of privacy if the parents don’t know the information to get in the phone and regularly search the phone to see what they’re doing,” Wilson said. “So if a parent calls and says, ‘Hey, I think my 16 year-old is involved in something, here’s her cell phone, I’m going to give you consent to search it.’ If I say, ‘Well, you don’t have permission to because you’re not constantly searching it, or you don’t know the passcode’ I mean, parents freak out about that.”
Some parents plan on searching their kids’ phones once they are old enough to have them.
“When they first get their phones my husband and I would be the ones paying for them,” Sarah Schroeder of De Pere said. “We would probably be checking on them every couple days, at least a couple times a week to know what they’re doing and who they’re talking to.”
Others have chosen not to.
“At this point, none of them have given me any reason to go through their phones, I guess no suspicious behavior or anything like that, so I want to give my kids their privacy and at this point I’ve had no reason to,” David Martens of Ledgeview explained.
Regardless of where you stand on searching through your child’s phone, those parents say talking to your child is the most important factor.
“I think we would sit down with them before they even get a phone and explain the rules and I think if they understand that we’re doing it to keep them safe and that’s our main goal as a parent is to keep our kids safe, that if we all know that we’re doing it, I think it would be okay,” Schroeder said.
“I feel like we’ve got a terrific relationship with our kids,” Martens said. “The gentle balance of I don’t want to be their buddy but I don’t want to be super enforcing either so I think they feel like they can come to me whenever they need something but again we give them a healthy amount of space when they need it.”