A California Supreme Court ruled Jan. 3 that defendants lose their rights to privacy for any items they’re carrying — including electronic devices — when they’re taken into custody.
The 5-2 ruling came in a drug case involving Gregory Diaz who was arrested after police say they watched him make a drug deal. Police searched Diaz’s cell phone and found a text message that linked him to the sale, according to the Court.
The decision allows police “to rummage at leisure through a wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee’s person,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. She was joined in dissent by Justice Carlos Moreno.
This is an issue that has divided the courts and so will probably end up in the United States Supreme Court. In 2007 a U.S. District Judge in San Francisco ruled that police had violated drug defendants’ rights by searching their cell phones after their arrests. The Ohio Supreme Court reached a similar decision in 2009, according to the report in the Chronicle.
The latest California ruling has devastating consequences for privacy. If you are suspected of committing a crime and are detained by police — in California, at least — they can search through any electronic device you are carrying. With the wealth of data that people store in their telephones and computers today, this opens up a person’s entire life history to scrutiny by law enforcement. In a country where almost every action has become a crime (see Three Felonies A Day: How The Feds Target The Innocent) this could subject innocent people — from the original suspect to his business associates and friends — to a myriad of legal problems.
The 4th Amendment is a clear indication of what the Founding Fathers thought about the potential for the State to abuse its citizens through unreasonable searches and seizures. But in a police state — like the one America has become — a silly thing like “The Bill of Rights” has no meaning.