In California, Police Can Still Search Your iPhone Without a Warrant

Josh WolfordIT Management

Share this Post

California Senate Bill 914, introduced by state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would make it illegal for the police to search a person's mobile device during an arrest without a warrant. It received nearly unanimous support in passing the state legislature, 70-0 in the assembly and 32-4 in the Senate.

But California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed the bill.

Here's the veto message he sent back to the State Senate on Sunday:

I am returning Senate Bill 914 without my signature.

This measure would overturn a California Supreme Court decision that
held that police officers can lawfully search the cell phones of
people who they arrest.

The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific
issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizures protections.

That California Supreme Court decision that Brown references is the People v. Diaz, a case ruled upon by the supreme state body in January of this year.

In that case, the suspect Diaz was arrested for selling ecstasy to an officer during an undercover drug bust. Upon his arrest, his cellphone was seized and put into evidence. During the interview of Diaz when he was back at the station, an officer looked through his text messages and found texts about the selling of ecstasy. Diaz, naturally, moved to suppress that evidence as a violation of his 4th Amendment rights.

The California Supreme Court upheld that the evidence would remain admissible, because the mobile device was found to be "property incidental to the person" instead of a "pathway to personal data." That means that it doesn't require a warrant to be perused.

The Supreme Court of the United States upheld this ruling when they declined to hear the case.

California Senate Bill 914 would have in effect overturned that court decision and made that type of mobile search illegal. Brown's veto will allow it to stand.

Wired suggests that Brown's decision in this case could be tied to political gain, in that it "shores up support with police unions," one in particular that donated $38K to his campaign.

Senate Bill 914 was supported by big name organizations like the ACLU as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who asked Californians to take actions and petition the Governor to sign the bill. Here's what they had to say about it:

Modern smartphones are a candid window into the intimate details of our lives carrying everything from text messages to emails, from webpages we've browsed to our real time location, from lists of contacts to photo albums. But under California law, an arresting officer can reach into your pocket, pull out your cell phone, and thumb through everything on it regardless of whether your phone has anything to do with the arrest itself.

SB 914 ensures that law enforcement officials can't search your phone without a warrant. This law will also cover other forms of sensitive mobile devices, like tablets and organizers.

It doesn't matter if you're arrested at a street protest or pulled over for a traffic stop; the sensitive data on your mobile devices shouldn't be subject to the idle curiosity of law enforcement officers.

The EFF paints a pretty frightening picture of what warrant-less mobile device searches could mean for the public. Just think about everything that a police officer has access to if they start browsing your iPhone - it's not just your text messages.

It means emails, call history, location data as well as all your photos. Since most apps on smartphones keep you automatically logged in, that means that technically your Facebook and Twitter accounts would be open to a warrant-less search as well.

There's no word on whether or not you are compelled to relinquish your passcode if your phone is passcode locked and if so, what the penalties would exist for refusal.

This surely feels like an unsettling path to be traveling down. What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments.

Josh Wolford
Josh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf