Cell phones, smart phones, and other personal electronic devices are free from arbitrary police snooping in California — at least for the time being, thanks to actions taken by the state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown.
In a rare victory for personal privacy rights, legislation prohibiting police from accessing information on a cell phone without a warrant recently became law in the Golden State.
The law stems from a case decided earlier this year by the California Supreme Court involving the 2007 arrest of Gregory Diaz, who was caught trying to sell drugs to an informant. After Diaz’s arrest, police went through his cell phone and found text messages alluding to potential drug sales, evidence that was used at his trial.
In January, the California high court held that Fourth Amendment protections, which requires police to obtain a warrant in order to search a suspect’s property, did not apply in Diaz’s case, because the cell phone was “immediately associated” with him and was “fair game in terms of being evidence of a crime or instrumentality of a crime or whatever the theory might be.”
The decision essentially removed any lawful impediment to California police officers perusing a person’s cell phone, so long as the person was placed under arrest. The arrestee’s personal cell phone was subject to search notwithstanding that the arrest had nothing to do with the suspect’s cell phone.