New bill could block cops from searching through cell phones without a warrant
UPDATE: Jerry Brown acted on 140 bills yesterday, vetoing four, including the bill that would bar police from searching through cell phones without a warrant.
Your cell phone can hold a lot of data — your bank account information, sext messages, dirty pictures and maybe even your social security number. Would you really want a police officer to be scrolling through all of that private information?
Currently, police officers are allowed to search and seize the cell phone of someone who is arrested, but a new bill may make it illegal for police officers to search through a phone without a warrant. Recently passed by the Assembly, Senate Bill 914 aims to protect the private information of those who have been arrested.
“Under the current law, people can be arrested for any offense no matter how minor, and police officers are legally allowed to look through the arrested person’s cell phone,” said Michael Risher, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “This bill protects personal data while giving law enforcement what they need to solve a crime.”
SB 914, authored by Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is in response to the January California Supreme Court ruling which allows officers to search through the contents of an arrested person’s cell phone without a warrant, regardless of how relevant the information is to their arrest.
The January Supreme Court decision ruled that “this loss of privacy 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.”
According to Leno, the technological advances of smart phones allow people to store a wealth of information including medical data, banking records and even GPS systems used to track a person’s whereabouts.
The legislation passed the Assembly with a bipartisan 68-0 vote. Among the co-sponsors are the First Amendment Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
SB 914 acknowledges that the warrantless search of a cell phone is not the same as searching through an arrestee’s cigarette pack, jean pockets or wallet because of the mass amount of storage space available on most cell phones.
“I have everything on my cell phone, like passwords and bank accounts,” said Mario Lazaro, 20, mechanical engineering major. “Hopefully with this bill we will have a little more privacy.”
While some opposition to the bill comes from law enforcement groups who argue that SB 914 will make their job harder when it comes to investigating crimes, other law enforcement officers give priority to Fourth Amendment rights.
“The bill makes sense,” said Officer Ha of the San Francisco Police Department. “There is a certain level of privacy that people expect.”
According to Officer Cass of the Pasadena Police Department, if a person has their cell phone locked, police officers cannot go in and decode it. He also said that if SB 914 passes it will not make their job any more difficult.
“It’s still easy to get a search warrant and it will not put a strain on our job,” Cass said. “Police officers will be allowed to hold on to a phone while they get the warrant needed to search through the mobile device.”
SB 914 passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support in June and will be returning to the Senate for a concurrence vote before it goes to Governor Brown’s desk.