September 2, 2011 | By Hanni Fakhoury

EFF-Supported Bill Requiring Warrant for Cell Phone Searches Passes CA Legislature, Goes to Gov. Brown

In May, we asked EFF members to write their California legislators and urge them to support SB 914, a bill that requires the police to obtain a search warrant before searching a recent arrestee’s cell phone.

EFF is happy to report that yesterday, the California Senate passed SB 914 with a bipartisan vote of 31-4. SB 914 already passed in the California Assembly in August on a 28-9 bipartisan vote, and is now on its way to Governor Brown's desk.

Introduced by California Senator Mark Leno, and sponsored by the Northern California ACLU and the First Amendment Coalition, SB 914 was intended to reverse the California Supreme Court's decision in People v. Diaz, which permitted police officers to search the content of a person's cell phone under a narrow Fourth Amendment exception permitting warrantless searches of the area immediately around a recent arrestee as "incident to arrest."

We hope and expect that Governor Brown will sign SB 914 into law despite the furious opposition of law enforcement. Cell phones contain a treasure trove of personal information, far beyond a person's call history, that deserves protection from the prying eyes of the police. Without SB 914, officers can use a pretextual arrest to casually browse the data on a person's cell phone for any reason, even if that person is never charged with a crime. Without requiring a search warrant, officers can search any arrested person's cell phone, even when they don't suspect there is any evidence of a crime on the device. SB 914 doesn’t impede law enforcement’s ability to investigate crimes; it just extends the Fourth Amendment to the contents of cell phones, requiring officers to show a judge there is probable cause that the phone has evidence of a crime before it is searched.

EFF looks forward to Governor Brown following the California legislature’s lead in protecting the private data stored on cell phones and make SB 914 the law.


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