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California Bar Police from Searching Mobile Phones without a Court Warrant

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California's State Assembly has approved a bill that would make it illegal for the police to search the contents of a mobile phone without a court warrant, save in some very specific situations.

The legislation, authored by Senator Mark Leno passed the Assembly with a bipartisan 68-0 vote. If signed into law by State Governor, Jerry Brown then it would overturn an earlier Supreme Court ruling that the police could search mobile phones if found on the person of an arrested suspect.

"For years state and local police have correctly acted under the assumption that our constitution's privacy protections prohibit warrantless searches of cell phones and other portable electronic devices during an arrest," said Senator Leno (D-San Francisco). "A recent California Supreme Court decision changed all that, raising serious privacy concerns, especially as cell phones get smarter and contain nearly all the same information as our personal home computers. 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."

Senator Leno's bill clarifies that law enforcement officers must first obtain a search warrant when there is probable cause to believe a suspect's phone contains evidence of a crime.

"A police search of a cell phone is akin in its intrusiveness to a search of one's home or office," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. "Searches so intrusive on one's privacy and disruptive of one's life require judicial guidance and a showing of probably cause. SB 914 provides these crucial safeguards, requiring that police simply obtain a warrant before searching a suspect's cell phone."

SB 914 passed the Senate in June with strong bipartisan support. It returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote before heading to the Governor's desk.

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Tags: california  police  USA