Reports indicate that it is not uncommon for law enforcement officials in California to perform warrantless searches of individuals' smartphones. Indeed, police can learn a lot about an individual by looking at the kind of data that is commonly available on these devices. However, one California state legislator wants to change this by enacting a state law to make the practice illegal.
Searching digital devices was especially common during the Occupy Wall Street movement. During the movement, police would arrest individuals for protest-related offenses -- like trespassing -- and then search their cellphones to review what kind of information was inside. Police have special devices they can attach cellphones to in order to download the information from them.
Smartphones Contain Lots of Private Information
By gaining access to someone's smartphone information, authorities can discover a lot of personal information about someone. They can find out where a person has a bank account, how much money the person has, contact information for associates and how often they call them, their web browsing histories, their digital purchase histories and even their sexual preferences. The list goes on.
One California state politician wants to pass a bill that would prevent police from confiscating and subsequently downloading the information found on an individual's cellphone. The politician wants a warrant to be required in order to spy on an individual's digital activity.
It appears that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with the legislator. In 2014, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling stating that warrantless cellphone searches need to stop according to the law. The court decided that it is unlawful for police to search the tablets and smartphones of arrested individuals, and that these kinds of searches represent a 4th Amendment violation unless the police have a warrant to do so.
Police Are Not Obeying Supreme Court Decision
The problem is that a lot of police in California continue to perform these warrantless searches in spite of the Supreme Court's ruling on the matter. However, the bill promoted by the California legislator would serve to codify the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions into California state law and make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies in the state to disobey the 4th Amendment.
What do you think? Should police be allowed to search smartphones without a warrant? Is it a violation of our civil rights?
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