Defendant claimed he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the screen of his cell phone because it was in his pocket up until he was arrested. When the phone was removed from his pocket, a message appeared on the screen, and that could be viewed by the police and testified to. United States v. Brixen, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 31512 (7th Cir. Nov. 7, 2018):
Nevertheless, Brixen argues he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his phone screen because he attempted to preserve the notifications as private by keeping his phone in his pocket. But once he was arrested, he retained no significant Fourth Amendment interest in the privacy of his person and the search incident to arrest allowed law enforcement officers to seize his cell phone. Riley, 134 S. Ct. at 2488 (citing United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 237 (1973) (Powell J., concurring) (“I believe that an individual lawfully subjected to a custodial arrest retains no significant Fourth Amendment interest in the privacy of his person”), and United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 16 n. 10 (noting that searches of a person incident to arrest are justified in part by “reduced expectations of privacy caused by the arrest”)). Upon arrest, Brixen no longer had a right to keep his phone in his pocket and once the phone was seized the notification projected on the screen was plain to see, just as a ringtone would have been plain to hear. And just as an individual who fails to conceal a phone’s ring from those in earshot does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, an individual who allows notifications to appear to those in plain sight does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
It is clear from Riley that law enforcement officers cannot affirmatively access an arrestee’s cell phone. Thus, disabling notifications that automatically appear on the phone would have preserved the message as private. Brixen simply had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a conspicuous notification once his phone was seized. The diminished privacy interests Brixen had as an arrestee make this conclusion even more inevitable.