CNN reports that a California bill (SB 914) concerning warrantless searches of mobile phones and other portable electronic devices will become law if Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs the bill before Oct. 9:
If you get arrested in California, the photos, e-mails and other personal data on your cell phone soon could be a bit safer from prying police eyes soon. A bill passed by the state legislature would require law-enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before searching the cell phone of a person placed under arrest.
If signed by the governor, the bill would override 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.” [...]
Under this legislation, California law enforcement officers would have to 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 bill, 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.
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