New California Law Will Protect Data on Smartphones and Other Electronic Devices

Last January, the California Supreme Court ruled that police can search the contents of an arrested person’s cell phone without a warrant. Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the ruling contends that “The loss of privacy upon arrest extends beyond the arrestee’s body to include ‘personal property … immediately associated with the person of the arrestee’ at the time of arrest.”

The problem with this ruling is that if you are pulled over and arrested for a traffic violation or some other minor offense, the law allows for the police to access all of the unrelated data on your smartphone and arguably, even connect with your office, banks, and other accounts via your smartphone services and links. Your arrest would allow police officers to view your photos, videos, and anything else you might consider “private” or “personal” on your phone.

We don’t agree with the ruling and neither does the California legislature. In fact, a bill was unanimously passed last week which will require law-enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before searching the cell phone of a person placed under arrest. Your personal data on your smartphone will be a protected from prying eyes of the authorities. Governor Brown is expected to sign the bill before October 9, 2011.

Police are not allowed to search your home without probable cause and a search warrant. Police are also not allowed to search your business or have access to your financial data without probable cause or a search warrant. Now, under the new law, police will not be able to conduct a “search” of your smartphone or other portable electronic devices unless there is a showing of “probable cause” that the smartphone or electronic device contains evidence of a crime.

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