In the Department of Scary Shit, the California Supreme Court ruled this week that, yeah, cops can check out the contents of your mobile phone without a search warrant.
Wow. Just what we need. Officer Nosy checking our photos, bookmarks and texts on our iPhone. In fact, the ruling was inspired by a case in which a man stopped by police had texts on his phone that authorities believe were related to a drug deal.
According to ars technica's account of the case:
The ruling comes as a result of the conviction of one Gregory Diaz, who was arrested for trying to sell ecstasy to a police informant in 2007 and had his phone confiscated when he arrived at the police station. The police eventually went through Diaz's text message folder and found one that read “6 4 80.” Such a message means nothing to most of us, but it was apparently enough to be used as evidence against Diaz (for those curious, it means six pills will cost $80).
Diaz had argued that the warrantless search of his phone violated his Fourth Amendment rights, but the trial court said that anything found on his person at the time of arrest was “really fair game in terms of being evidence of a crime.”
Apparently the phone was readily associated with a man who was being arrested for other suspected crimes, so it was fair game on-the-spot. Kind of like when cops say something — drugs, weapons — was in “plain view” when they grab it.
So under this deal, if they believe they have you for drugs or some other arrestable crime, then your phone is theirs. A little scary, since many smart phones are essentially tiny laptops with a lot of your personal info on them.
This doesn't seem to apply to your everyday traffic stop, so don't worry if you're just telling your man (or woman) what color underwear you're wearing (actually you shouldn't be doing that while you're driving in California anyway because it's illegal).
Still, this seems invasive, and not all the justices were in agreement.
Dissenters Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos Moreno wrote:
“The potential intrusion on informational privacy involved in a police search of a person's mobile phone, smartphone or handheld computer is unique among searches of an arrestee's person and effects.”
We're not surprised. Police are given immense power in this state as a result of a political system that favors law-and-order candidate endorsements. (Officers endorse, lawmakers give them the powers they desire).
If you violate several traffic laws at once they can even take your car on the spot. Now they'll know what color your underwear is too.