Until recently, when someone was arrested for any crime, police in California were allowed to search the cell phone of the person arrested. This open search of the arrested person’s cell phone was allowed whether or not the cell phone had anything to do with the reason the person was arrested. The California legislature has now prohibited these type of warrantless searches and police in California can no longer arbitrarily inspect any items on a person’s cell phone.
In addition, the law not only includes cell phones, but also covers any and all ‘portable electronic devices.’ The law specifies that these types of devices include anything that can be used to receive, send, access, or create electronic data or communications of any type. One can conclude that this could cover tablets, laptops, netbooks, or any device that stores data of any type as well.
Some in the California law enforcement community believe that this law could hinder the investigation that police conduct in order to locate and prosecute others who may be involved in criminal activity. I personally do not believe that this is the case at all. The law only requires that a search warrant be obtained and is no different than what is currently required to search a person’s car or home. Requiring police to explain to a judge why any device may contain criminal information protects us all from warrantless search and seizures of any kind.
Our forefathers specified that warrantless searches were not acceptable and spelled this out in the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution. Prior to this, the colonies were subjected to warrantless search and seizures by the English crown. I believe that the California law may one day end up before the US Supreme Court and that the court will uphold the law on constitutional issues and confirm this as the law of the land.