California bill would prohibit warrantless cellphone searches

| Wednesday, August 10, 2011

About one month remains until the California Legislature is scheduled to wrap up their work for the year. One bill that is expected to draw consideration during that time would reverse a court ruling that allows police to search cellphones without a warrant.

In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers, without a warrant, can search the contents of a cellphone confiscated from anyone under arrest.

The majority of justices said arrestees lose their right of privacy in anything they are carrying when taken into custody.

Shortly after the decision was handed down an effort was introduced at the California statehouse to counter it. Since then, the Senate voted to advance to the Assembly a bill to overturn the court’s ruling on warrantless cellphone searches.

When lawmakers return to Sacramento on Monday, Aug. 15, the full Assembly can take the bill up for a vote. If approved, the Senate would need to sign off on changes before SB914 advances to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said the bill clarifies that officers must first obtain a search warrant when there is probable cause to believe a suspect’s phone contains evidence of a crime.

“This legislation will help ensure that a simple arrest – which may or may not lead to criminal charges – is not used as a fishing expedition to obtain a person’s confidential information,” Leno said in a previous statement.

He said the privacy safeguards are critical as technology advances and cellphones become much more than simple devices to make phone calls.

In hopes of appeasing law enforcement, the bill includes a provision to continue to allow officers to search cellphones without a warrant when there is an immediate threat to public safety or the arresting officer.

The bill’s analysis reports that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that cellphone searches require a warrant. In addition, federal law enforcement agencies also abide by the warrant protocol.

Leno wrote that his bill “simply restores these critical privacy safeguards.”

Supporters have until the regular session ends on Sept. 9 to advance the bill to the governor.

OOIDA encourages California truckers to communicate their views on the bill with their state Assembly members.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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