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No warrant needed to search your mobile phone content in California

Welcome to California

Planning to go on a vacation to California on vacation? You may want to consider not bringing your mobile phone with you (especially if it has illegal data stored inside). California police are now permitted to search the mobile phone data of a person who are placed under arrest, and use any data collected (including text messages) against the suspect in court.

The next time you are travelling to California, you may want to leave your mobile phone and laptop  at home.

A new ruling handed down by California’s Supreme Court dictates that the police can now search through the mobile phone’s data of an arrested suspect without a warrant, and use any data found against the suspect in court. The ruling brings up possibilities of searches conducted on a suspect’s computer equipment such as but not limited to mobile phones and desktop and laptop PCs. All these do not require a warrant.

This ruling came about from the arrest of a certain citizen named Gregory Diaz, in 2007. Diaz has purchased drugs through a police informant and when investigators searched the contents of Diaz’s phone, they found damning evidence against him in the form of text messages, linking him to a drug deal. Diaz appealed against his conviction, saying that the searching of his phone was unreasonable.

However, the court disagree and asserted the rightfulness of the investigators’ actions by stating that “the cellphone was an item (of personal property) on (Diaz’s) person at the time of his arrest and during the administrative processing at the police station.”

However, there are experts who disagree. “This ruling isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous,” says Rasch, Director of Cybersecurity and Privacy at computer security firm CSC, in Virginia.  “It’s remarkable, because it simply misunderstands the nature of these devices.”

In fact, the new ruling is an irony against the face of the current law, which prohibits the searching of other personal effects such as briefcase without a warrant, except for a quick check for weapon possession. While professionals like lawyers plan to appeal against the new ruling, the warrantless rummaging of data from personal computer equipment carries on.

For now, enabling password protection on smartphones as well as personal computers, and the encryption of important personal data is the wise move to make, if one is heading to California.

Source: MSNBC Red Tape

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