September 22, 2011

New law bans warrantless cell phone searches

9-22-2011 California:

If you get arrested in California for any reason, the photos, e-mails and other personal data on your cell phone are now a bit safer from prying police eyes. A new law now requires law-enforcement officers in that state to obtain a warrant before searching the cell phone of a person placed under arrest.

This law overrides a January ruling by the California Supreme Court. According to California Sen. Mark Leno, who sponsored the legislation, this ruling had "legalized the warrantless search of cell phones during an arrest, regardless of whether the information on the phone is relevant to the arrest or if criminal charges are ever filed."

The new California law unanimously passed in the state Assembly. Today the office of Gov. Jerry Brown confirmed that since the governor did not make a specific decision on this legislation, it became automatically enrolled as a law this week.

Under this legislation, California law enforcement officers must first obtain a search warrant when there is probable cause to believe a suspect's portable electronic device contains evidence of a crime.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California, which opposed the law, argued: "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 isn't just about cell phones. The wording of this law specifically refers to "portable electronic devices," defined as: "any portable device that is capable of creating, receiving, accessing, or storing electronic data or communications."

So in addition to cell phones this might conceivably cover tablet computers, laptops, netbooks, e-readers, media players, gaming devices, digital cameras, audio recorders, external hard drives, flash drives and other devices available now or in the future. ..Source.. by Amy Gahran, Special to CNN

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