California approves warrantless searches protection

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, October 20, 2015

California law will soon prohibit police from searching cellphones, or other devices, in certain instances without a warrant.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill to require law enforcement agencies to get warrants before accessing information that includes emails, text messages and GPS data included on such devices as smartphones, tablets and laptops. SB178 takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

The governor vetoed similar efforts in previous sessions, citing a January 2011 state Supreme Court ruling that law enforcement officers, without a warrant, can search the contents of a cellphone confiscated from anyone under arrest.

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

Brown said at the time that the decision should be left to the courts.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said it’s time the state’s data privacy laws were brought into the 21st century.

“For too long, California’s digital privacy laws have been stuck in the Dark Ages, leaving our personal emails, text messages, photos and smartphones increasingly vulnerable to warrantless searches,” Leno said in prepared remarks.

He said the new law ensures that law enforcement has the tools needed to continue to fight crime in the digital age.

Law enforcement is permitted to gain access to a mobile device without a warrant when waiting for permission to search could put people at risk. An exception would also be made for instances when the owner or user gives consent.

Major technology companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter support the new law. According to Leno’s office, the state’s technology companies note a significant rise in requests from law enforcement for consumer data.

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

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