This is really one of the scarier recent assaults on the Fourth Amendment.
California Gov. Jerry Brown is vetoing legislation requiring police to obtain a court warrant to search the mobile phones of suspects at the time of any arrest.
The Sunday veto means that when police arrest anybody in the Golden State, they may search that person’s mobile phone — which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and even where the phone has traveled.
Police across the country are given wide latitude to search persons incident to an arrest based on the premise of officer safety. Now the nation’s states are beginning to grapple with the warrantless searches of mobile phones done at the time of an arrest.
Brown’s veto message abdicated responsibility for protecting the rights of Californians and ignored calls from civil liberties groups and this publication to sign the bill — saying only that the issue is too complicated for him to make a decision about. He cites a recent California Supreme Court decision upholding the warrantless searches of people incident to an arrest. In his brief message, he also doesn’t say whether it’s a good idea or not.
Last time I posted on this, commenter “Puzzling” made a very good point.
Cell phones are also not simple “containers” to the extent that modern phones show both local data and vastly more data information stored in cloud services, often all integrated together seamlessly to the user. These law enforcement searches are actually retrieving information stored in “containers” elsewhere.
So a traffic infraction can now lead to a search of your email (much of which may be stored on off-site servers, but still downloadable from your cell phone), GPS history, cell phone photos and video, web browsing history, history of phone calls placed and received, text message history, and anything else you do with your cell phone. Troubling, to say the least.