Recently, the California state legislature passed a bill that would require law-enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before searching an arrested person’s cellphone. While, the California law does not impact people who live in Minnesota, the law is central to a criminal defense discussion about information collection by law enforcement, electronic devices and search warrants.
If the bill passed by the legislature is signed by the governor, police officers in California would first have to obtain a search warrant when they believe there is probable cause to believe an arrested individual’s electronic device contains criminal evidence. The wording of the law would also apply to tablet computers, media players, digital cameras, gaming devices, flash drivers and laptop computers.
The passage of the bill came in reaction to a California Supreme Court ruling in January that legalized the warrantless search of cell phones during an arrest. The implication of the ruling also meant that criminal evidence unrelated to the suspected crime could also have been obtained.
The California state assembly unanimously passed the bill and supporters of the bill say the potential law would strengthen the rights to freedom of speech and assembly as well. Under the California Supreme Court ruling police officers could possibly obtain information about public or private gatherings.
However, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation warns that once police obtain a search warrant for an arrestee’s cellphone everything on the cellphone may become evidence. The issue remains one more to be decided. Legal experts believe the recently passed bill will send a strong message to other state legislatures regarding the cellphone warrant issue.
Source: CNN, “California bill would ban warrantless cell phone searches,” Amy Gahran, Sept. 21, 2011