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    Dallas Morning News: Courts make conflicting calls on whether police need warrant to search cellphone

    The Dallas Morning News has a followup to the recent court ruling — California v. Diaz (pdf) — concerning the privacy of text and e-mail messages on cellphones.

    A recent California Supreme Court decision says police do not need search warrants to examine the cellphones of those under arrest. But local judges and a deputy chief for the Dallas Police Department say officers should obtain warrants before reading the contents of cellphones.

    Until the privacy issue is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, “it’s safest for us to go ahead and get a warrant,” said Dallas police Deputy Chief Craig Miller. He said Dallas officers generally ask suspects for permission to search their phones and, if denied, obtain a warrant.

    “That’s the most prudent route,” Miller said, “because if you’ve ever been the detective on the stand in a trial and they say they think you’ve obtained evidence illegally, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.” […]

    [State District Judge Andy] Chatham said he ruled last year that police could search the phone found on a man stopped on a bicycle because it didn’t belong to him. But Chatham said that had the phone belonged to the defendant, he would not have allowed the evidence.

    “If it’s somebody else’s cellphone, he has no expectation of privacy,” Chatham said. The phone belonged to a woman whose home had been burglarized. […]

    The issue has not cropped up often in Texas yet but has in other states. The California case arose after a deputy searched the text messages of a man arrested on suspicion of participating in a drug deal.

    A drug case in Ohio resulted in a different ruling. The Supreme Court there ruled in 2009 that officers must obtain a warrant before searching cellphone data because of the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable searches and seizures.

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