Okay, I have to eat a little crow. I just finished praising California for getting serious with Privacy reform and this happens. <sigh> The Governor of California, Jerry Brown (D), used his veto power to nix an important bill on Privacy. In essence, the bill would have prevented a police officer from searching someone’s cell phone without a valid court warrant after he or she has been arrested. This seems like a no brainer. Your cell phone contains texts, emails, pictures and other personal information. Why would the police perform a warrant-less search on your cell phone, or other mobile device, AFTER you’ve been placed in custody and the device is confiscated? At that point, the police officer has the time to obtain a valid warrant to search the device for evidence. According to the non-profit organization, Electronic Frontier Foundation – Defending your rights in the digital world, without this bill (SB 914), officers can use the arrest to casually browse the data on a person’s cell phone for any reason, even if that person is never charged with a crime. Without requiring a search warrant, officers can search any arrested person’s cell phone, even when they don’t suspect there is any evidence of a crime on the device. [Wow, not cool].
Apparently, the police union aggressively opposed the legislation. The Peace Officers Research Association of California said that “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.”
The California legislature disagreed, finding that “once in the exclusive control of the police, cellular telephones do not ordinarily pose a threat to officer safety. Furthermore, lawmakers found that existing practices — including confiscating the phone (without searching it) or promptly applying to a judge for a search warrant — alleviate concerns about destruction of evidence.”
This bill passed the California Senate with a vote of 31 -4; and the Assembly with a vote of 28 -9 so clearly it had support of the California lawmakers and their constituents. I am very disappointed that Governor Brown decided to use his veto power this way, and I think his decision is a disgrace to the 4th amendment.