Police One Step Closer To Warrantless Cell Phone Searches

I just happened to be going through some other things when this story caught my attention and I had to stop and tell you all about it. Earlier this week the California Supreme Court ruled that arresting officers, without a warrant, may search the contents of a cell phone taken from a suspect during arrest stating, “lawful custodial arrest justifies the infringement of any privacy interest the arrestee may have in property immediately associated with his or her person at the time of arrest,” and that, “…this… allows police not only to seize anything of importance they find on the arrestee’s body … but also to open and examine what they find.”  To me this goes right to the heart of unlawful search and seizure, the very reason that that laws prohibiting this type of thing are in place now. I’m all for things that help the police do their job better, but this is just going to far.


The court’s 5-2 decision in People v. Diaz (No. S166600, January 3, 2010, avail at: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S166600.PDF) extends to all content held on a mobile or smart phone and specifically renounces the idea that the amount or type of data makes a cell phone somehow different from any other object found on or near an arrestee’s person. Hey, if they can get a warrant and show just cause as to why thy need to search your locked phone which may or may not contain relevant data to the case is one thing. I have no problem with that. It all comes down to whether a person could expect a right to privacy and I think someone thinking enough to put a passcode or lock on a phone meets the burden of proof there. To me the whole thing is just a very narrow line and I don’t see how the police could walk it properly 100% of the time.

What’s worse is that there are already companies that make software that can allow the police to unlock locked phones and get instant access to the call history, contacts, text messages, photos, voice recordings, video files, calendar entries, tasks, notes, address book, Web browsing history, chat logs, data stored in applications (including social media applications), search history and any data from location-enabled services or applications–allowing police to construct an arrestee’s past whereabouts and activities. This technology is dangerous, especially if it got into the hands of say an abusive spouse.

Luckily, the California decision is only a skirmish in battle that is just beginning. Where do you stand, do you agree with California judge’s ruling?

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