Smart Phone Snooping by Cops Too Easy

Bill would overturn court ruling giving police nearly limitless access to arrestees’ devices.

Orson Welles’ character in the 1958 movie A Touch of Evil, says, “A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.” That line is often cited when issues of police policy come before the public. It’s an important idea: Free societies should be more interested in protecting the rights of the accused than in making the job of the police too easy.

Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court lost sight of this ideal this year with its decision in People v. Diaz, which gives law enforcement a nearly limitless right to conduct warrantless searches of the personal information, files, messages and photographs of people under arrest. Now, Senate Bill 914, which could reach the Senate floor as early as Thursday, would essentially overturn that decision and put some limits on the wide-ranging searches officers can conduct without a warrant.

In the past, courts had allowed police to search an arrestee for items such as cigarette packs, where drugs could be stored, for instance. The court in the Diaz decision expanded that right to include searches of an arrestee’s cell phone, reasoning that the phone isn’t much different from other incidentals found in a person’s pocket. In this case, police searched the text-messaging files of a man held on a drug charge nearly 90 minutes after his arrest.

The court failed to recognize that cell phones are not what they used to be. “The Diaz case eviscerates protections for personal and private information that is ordinarily protected from government snooping for anybody who is arrested and allows law enforcement to intrude into our personal lives without any judicial oversight,” explained the analysis by the bill’s author, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. “This means that police can rummage through everything in your smart phone… . In fact, a search of a modern mobile device is more like a search of an arrested person’s home or business than it is like a pack of cigarettes or wallet.”

This is correct. We all know the reams of personal information and contacts stored in our smart phones. We also know that being arrested for a crime is not the same thing as being guilty, and our state has an increasingly long list of statutes of which any of us can run afoul.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association is a strong supporter of SB914, noting that police could arrest a reporter and gain access to stories, interviews, files, connect to the newspaper file server and go on a limitless fishing expedition. In a free society, those files may be searched – but only after the courts intervene to assure that the authorities are only looking for information tied to a specific allegation of a crime.

But the police unions and the legislators they control or intimidate are pushing hard against this sensible bill. SB914 merits bipartisan support from those legislators who still are more interested in the rights of Californians than the desires of public employee unions.

via US, California: Smart Phone Snooping by Cops Too Easy — Puppet Masters — Sott.net.

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Categories: physical control

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