This is sort of related to this other question but in this case it is about a cell phone and about entering a government (IRS) office.

I visited an IRS field office in Worcester (Massachusetts, USA) a couple of years back and had a somewhat off-putting experience with their security guard asking to see my cell phone. As in, "in order for you to get in here, I want you to hand over your cell phone".

The request seemed a bit weird but as I had a need to talk to IRS personnel, I gave him my phone. The phone was one of those Nokia N900 smart phones. He turned it on, fiddled with the screen a bit (I thought at that time that maybe he was trying to scroll it to see what apps I had on it), and gave it back to me.

This guard was not an official law enforcement person (police officer or sheriff or anything like that) but from some private security company.

Anyway, this experience came up in a discussion later and what I wanted to know is what the U.S. (or MA) law says about requests to see another person's cell phone.

In USA, or MA, would a security guard at an IRS office be legally allowed to demand to see my cell phone?

  • 5
    You can "see" a cell phone in two ways: inspect it physically to see that it is a cell phone and not a bomb, and to search the data. The former is clearly allowed, the latter not so much. Which kind of "seeing" are you asking about?
    – user6726
    Apr 27, 2018 at 19:14
  • you are correct, @user6726. I should have been more clear on that. Thank you, I have now clarified that part in my question.
    – user100487
    Apr 28, 2018 at 2:10
  • 1
    I think the question is not whether the guard is allowed to see your phone (if you voluntarily turn it over to the guard, then obviously yes); but instead can you enter the IRS office over the guard's objections. In my opinion you can. However, in the opinion of the people who matter you can not.
    – emory
    Apr 28, 2018 at 20:59

1 Answer 1


This sounds like the security official was trying to determine whether your phone was a bomb or not, rather than trying to determine what was on your phone. This is probably legitimate under the circumstances.

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