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California New Cell Phone Laws

on . Posted in Mobile

Texting_LawIn California, as well as in many areas of the Western world, law enforcement agencies are having to adjust to changes as a result of new media sources like cell phones, mobile media devices, and laptops. In the past, California authorities were able to obtain evidence without a warrant from mobile media devices taken from anyone arrested for a crime that carried such a device, but as a result of recent legal developments, that approach may soon change.

California Sen. Mark Leno has sponsored a bill in the California legislature that would make it illegal to obtain data off of mobile devices such as cellphones without a warrant in the event of an arrest. Previously, due to a January ruling by the California Supreme Court, authorities could conduct warrantless searches of these devices in the event of an arrest, even if the device and the data it contained had nothing to do with the case, and even if no criminal charges were ever filed. The bill has already been unanimously passed and is awaiting the signature of Governor Brown.


The ramifications this change would make are massive. If signed into law, essentially, law enforcement would need to have probable cause to even seek a search warrant to obtain data from mobile devices, even if the information on the device pertained directly to an arrest. Opponents of the bill claim that it would hinder the ability of law enforcement to do its job, leaving police officers and other authorities to waste precious time seeking a warrant, which could be denied.

However, proponents of the bill state that mobile devices do not pose an imminent threat to police, and the current practice of confiscating such devices while in custody eliminates the ability for the suspect to destroy evidence. The real issue, they claim, is that the ability of the police to search a suspect's mobile device without a warrant is a violation of the 4th Amendment, and that if authorities believe they have probable cause, then there should be no issue in getting a legal warrant.

Whether the bill passes or not, what remains to be seen is if there will be further legal challenges to the issue. Just as this bill would over rule the original January Supreme Court decision, it is almost certain that the issue won't end there. Because of the language of the bill, the argument may then become what types of mobile media devices are covered, and what information can be obtained from them. More than likely, the issue will end up back in the Supreme Court in one way or another, but until then, California's legal system is holding its breath.