California Outlaws Warrantless Cell Phone Searches
California State Legislators just passed a new law that makes it illegal for a police officer to search a suspect's cellphone without first obtaining a search warrant. According to CNN, the law was passed in response to a January ruling by the California Supreme Court, which found that a police officer could search a suspect's phone without a warrant.
In handing down its decision, the court said that, "the loss of privacy upon arrest extends beyond the arrestee's body to include 'personal property ... immediately associated with the person of the arrestee' at the time of arrest," CNN wrote. That included smartphones, tablets, and any other mobile devices and the data stored on them.
The new law, however, wipes away that policy and instead requires officers to obtain a warrant before searching a cell phone or other mobile device. The Peace Officers Research Association of California opposed the law saying, "Restricting the authority of a peace officer to search an arrestee unduly restricts their ability to apply the law, fight crime, discover evidence valuable to an investigation, and protect the citizens of California." But California lawmakers said that once a person has been arrested and an officer confiscates their phone, the risk of a suspect deleting important evidence is significantly reduced.
Several states have been focusing on the issue of warrantless searches of mobile devices. The Ohio Supreme Court banned the practice, while, courts in Florida and Georgia have upheld searches. Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury said she expects the matter to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. "None of the cases involved relied solely on state law. They all raised constitutional issues. There would be no reason for the Supreme Court not to get involved."