California warrantless phone search legal

Bad news for Californians after Monday's high court decision (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S166600.PDF) which grants the police the right to search the mobile phones of people taken into custody without any search warrant.

The case was based on Gregory Diaz who was arrested in 2007 for conspiracy to sell Ecstasy. A message on his phone found by police read '6 4 $80' which they took to mean six pills for $80, now regardless of whether you think he deserves this for drug dealing or the fact that at UK prices this seems very steep for Ecstasy, the fact that police are able to search a mobile without any warrant is worrying.

With modern mobiles having access to your email, SMS messages, contacts, websites visited and many other important personal, private information, now is the time for all Californians to password protect their mobiles.

As Kathryn Werdegar (one of the dissenting judges) wrote “Never before has it been possible to carry so much personal or business information in one's pocket or purse. The potential impairment to privacy if arrestees' mobile phones and handheld computers are treated like clothing or cigarette packages, fully searchable without probable cause or a warrant is correspondingly great.”

I am in total agreement with her, if the police have probable cause they should seek a warrant to grant them the ability to search a mobile phone, in the same way as they would need to search a computer at somebody’s home.

Leave a Reply