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    San Francisco Chronicle: Court OKs searches of cell phones without warrant

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports on an interesting case, California v. Diaz (pdf), from the California Supreme Court concerning the content of mobile phones, including text messages or e-mail.

    The California Supreme Court allowed police Monday to search arrestees’ cell phones without a warrant, saying defendants lose their privacy rights for any items they’re carrying when taken into custody. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedents, “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,” the state court said in a 5-2 ruling.

    The majority, led by Justice Ming Chin, relied on decisions in the 1970s by the nation’s high court upholding searches of cigarette packages and clothing that officers seized during an arrest and examined later without seeking a warrant from a judge.

    The dissenting justices said those rulings shouldn’t be extended to modern cell phones that can store huge amounts of data. […]

    They argued that police should obtain a warrant – by convincing a judge that they will probably find incriminating evidence – before searching a cell phone.

    The issue has divided other courts. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco ruled in May 2007 that police had violated drug defendants’ rights by searching their cell phones after their arrests. The Ohio Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion in a December 2009 ruling in which the state unsuccessfully sought U.S. Supreme Court review. […]

    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a police department did not violate an officer’s privacy when it read text messages he had sent on a department-owned pager.

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