Wednesday, January 05, 2011

California Supreme Court OKs warrantless cellphone searches

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Pictured: A hat (according to the CA Supreme Court)

In which the California Supreme Court rules that the Fourth Amendment evidently makes excellent toilet paper:

The next time you're in California, you might not want to bring your cell phone with you. The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can search the cell phone of a person who's been arrested -- including text messages -- without obtaining a warrant, and use that data as evidence.

The ruling opens up disturbing possibilities, such as broad, warrantless searches of e-mails, documents and contacts on smart phones, tablet computers, and perhaps even laptop computers, according to legal expert Mark Rasch.

The ruling handed down by California's top court involves the 2007 arrest of Gregory Diaz, who purchased drugs from a police informant. Investigators later looked through Diaz's phone and found text messages that implicated him in a drug deal. Diaz appealed his conviction, saying the evidence was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The court disagreed, comparing Diaz cell phone to personal effects like clothing, which can be searched by arresting officers.

"The cell phone was an item (of personal property) on (Diaz's) person at the time of his arrest and during the administrative processing at the police station," the justices wrote. "Because the cell phone was immediately associated with defendant’s person, (police were) entitled to inspect its contents without a warrant."

In fact, the ruling goes further, saying essentially that the Diaz case didn't involve an exception -- such as a need to search the phone to stop a "crime in progress." In other words, this case was not an exception, but rather the rule.

Isn’t it amazing how often the Supreme Court rules in a manner that makes even the most legally illiterate commoner facepalm? I’m not exactly sure how they came to the conclusion (other than, perhaps, in their eagerness to convict Diaz) that an electronic device that stores personal information and other sorts of data can be considered “like clothing”. I don’t recall the last time a cop asked a pair of jeans what the suspect who’d recently worn them had been up to recently.

Not only is this ruling completely wrong and utterly illogical, but it also serves to further reveal law enforcement’s deepening contempt for the people’s Constitutional rights. As Glenn Greenwald notes, it would at least be more honest of them if they just went ahead and struck the prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures down altogether, rather than continue to weasel around it in increasingly obvious and dishonest ways.

(via @ggreenwald)