As you know by listening and watching my show, technology is something that evolves daily. And many of the government's privacy laws have been slow to catch up. California is now another state that requires police officers obtain a search warrant before snooping through your cellphones, tablets and computers. Warrant laws about these electronic gadgets are pretty varied depending on the state you live in, and it can be difficult to determine what's what with the ambiguous verbiage and lengthy provisions.
The cloud of confusion surrounding the issue in California finally lifted on Wednesday. State senators unanimously approved State Bill 178, which requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant from a judge before poring through the content on the phone and location data stored within it. For many of us, our personal electronics are private. Messages, pictures and emails stored away on them are just meant for our eyes.
There are now six states that require a warrant for police searching personal electronics. It's not good news for everyone though! Law enforcement collectives like the California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chiefs Association have said publicly they don't like the new law. The California State Sheriffs Association sent San Francisco senator Mark Leno a letter explaining why they don't approve.
In the letter, the group says the new bill, “... conflates existing procedures for obtaining certain electronic information under state and federal law, contains burdensome and unnecessary reporting requirements, and will undermine investigations that are fully compliant with the 4th Amendment.”
Unlike many other technology privacy laws, SB 178 is crystal clear. It says a warrant may only be issued to search your gear if there is “... evidence that tends to show a felony has been committed, or tends to show that a particular person has committed a felony, or when there is a warrant to arrest a person.” That means unless you're doing something bad the police already know about, you are safe from police snooping through your electronic gear.
Federal law has gone back and forth with its stance on search warrants for personal electronic devices. In a decision last month, the Federal Court of Appeals went against its own decision that said investigators need a warrant to extract cellphone information from wireless providers. Federal law enforcement no longer needs a warrant to search any of your electronics; they can search through your stuff whenever they see fit.
It's a thin line for police to walk between protecting the public and unfounded searching. So do you think warrants should be required to search your personal electronics or do you feel that only the guilty have something to hide? Let me know by commenting below.