CA Governor Lets Police Search Your Smartphones At Traffic Stops

from the shameful dept

While it had been rumored it’s unfortunately now confirmed that California governor Jerry Brown has sold out your privacy to law enforcement. After a bad court ruling gave law enforcement the ability to search your mobile phone during a traffic stop, the California legislature realized the ridiculousness of the situation and passed the bill requiring a warrant pretty quickly.

But, unfortunately, despite widespread support for it, Governor Brown has vetoed the bill, meaning that your mobile phones are fair game for searches without a warrant. Not only that, but he couldn’t even make a statement to stand up for what he believes in about this, apparently only arguing that he vetoed the bill because “the issue is too complicated for him to make a decision about” and that it’s better for the courts to decide.

Governor Brown knows better than this and he’s being intentionally misleading. The courts are supposed to interpret the will of the legislature and make sure it’s in line with the Constitution. Here, the legislature is clearly saying that it thinks such searches need a warrant. Leaving it for “the courts” to resolve is punting, and failing to take a stand for basic privacy rights. It’s a weak move.

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Comments on “CA Governor Lets Police Search Your Smartphones At Traffic Stops”

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Jay (profile) says:

No conflict of interest...

Brown?s veto also shores up support with police unions and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a police union that opposed the legislation and recently donated $38,900 to Brown?s campaign coffers. ?Restricting the authority of a peace officer to search an arrestee unduly restricts their ability to apply the law, fight crime, discover evidence valuable to an investigation and protect the citizens of California,? the association said in a message.

That support would be key if Brown decides to seek a second term.

In the last year alone, at least seven police unions donated more than $12,900 each to Brown. Those unions, including the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff?s Association, had given Brown more than $160,000 in combined contributions

No conflict of interest at all…

Anonymous Coward says:

“Governor Brown knows better than this and he’s being intentionally misleading. The courts are supposed to interpret the will of the legislature and make sure it’s in line with the Constitution. “

I am sort of amazed here by the way you phrase this. You make it sound like there are no existing laws or court decisions already existing that cover this “in theory”. Do we really need another law to muddy the waters? There are plenty of existing laws, and the courts are still not clear based on existing law how to handle smart phones.

Gov Brown is doing exactly the right thing: Let the courts work with the current laws, see where they fail based on judgements, and then move forward to address the issues that the courts bring into the game.

What is so hard to understand?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It isn’t hard to understand. What is hard to understand is why it is a “bad court ruling”. It doesn’t appear to be, it appears to be entirely in line with all other normal in car search procedures.

Let it run it’s course (up to SCOTUS is they so desire) and then act. For the moment, this appears to be well within caselaw for all other searches. It’s only a “bad court ruling” because Mikey doesn’t like it.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

> What is hard to understand is why it is a
> “bad court ruling”. It doesn’t appear to be,
> it appears to be entirely in line with all
> other normal in car search procedures.

No, it isn’t because a smart phone is qualitatively unlike anything else one would carry in a car. A glove box and an iPhone are hardly the same thing for a variety of different reasons, so the rules that apply to the former can’t reasonably be applied to the latter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You don’t have to carry around a box full of files that has all your communications for the last 2 years all the time. Most people do need a phone for work and/or are dependent on it for their daily lives. If you had a box full of private documents you would choose whether or not to have that in the car at the time, its not something you would just lug around all the time, and would only bring it if you needed it at the moment. Plus if you lock the box they need a warrant to open it while, iirc, their phone scan software goes around password screen locks.

Really you could lock your phone in your glove box, which would also decrease the number of jackasses driving around while talking on their phone but for those of us that use it for GPS and/or a music player that wouldn’t really work.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

> But is an Iphone and a box of files on your
> passenger seat really different? They are,
> in the end, just a box full of information.
> If the box can be searched, why not your phone?

The entire basis and justification for allowing the search of the box is officer safety. They cans search the box to ensure that it doesn’t contain weapons or explosives but they can’t sit there and pour over the contents of the files and make copies for themselves for further investigation.

There’s absolutely no officer safety justification for seaching the contents of an iPhone. That’s the difference between the phone and the box of files. The box could possibly contain a gun. The iPhone cannot.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Let’s have a look at the specs for my phone (the HTC Sensation):

1.2GHz dual-core processor
768 MB RAM
8MP camera
1080p multitouch screen

I’d say that’s old Laptop specs to me. Compare with my SO’s Notebook:

1.6GHz dual-core processor
1.3MP camera
576i screen (1440×900 resolution)

I’m pretty sure it’s FUBAR when the former can be searched without a warrant, whilst the latter can’t.

Viln (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sorry, but that was a ridiculous post made for no other reason than to continue to contradict Masnick regardless of the topic at hand. There’s a point where the humor wears off.

The legislature made a specific clarification to protect the people from an overall outrageous misinterpretation of police rights. Removing this clarification muddies the water. Police will continue to abuse this overreaching interpretation to violate individual privacy rights when there is no physical threat, and citizens will have to pursue legal means after their rights have been violated, at their own expense and time, when legislation was already in place to prevent the process to begin with.

Jerry Brown has been doing a bang-up job lately of making people miss Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The fact that the legislature decided that the existing laws had already failed based on judgment, then moved forward to address the issue doesn’t count.

All Brown had to do was sit on his hands. Instead he took an active effort to block the will of the legislature to correct a perceived wrong. And can’t even explain why.

HrilL says:

Re: Re:

We already had a ruling at the appeals level that allowed Police to do these searches. The legislature thought they should create a new Law to make it so they need a warrant. Brown is an ass hat that was owned by special interest and corporations. We knew this the first time he was governor. Concluding that everyone that voted for him is a waste of oxygen.

AJ says:

Password protect your phone, you should be doing it anyway. If they try to force you to unlock it, ask if you are being detained, or if your free to go. If they say your being detained, ask for a lawyer and plead the 5th. Nothing good can ever come of giving the authorities access to any personal device you own.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, sometimes it’s not easy….. but people have to start understanding that rights are like muscles, either exercise them, or lose them.

I have a CC permit so I’ve done some extensive research on my rights at a traffic stop, and when stopped on foot in public, especially when I’m carrying. I was very surprised at what I learned. I think the key is, never consent to anything, stay polite and calm, and keep your mouth shut.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m tired of googling it, so I’m not providing links. Rest assured that law enforcement doesn’t care about your password or swipe pattern or whatever, they can copy your phone’s data wholesale. It’s *possible* that whole phone encryption might make a difference, but I really doubt it. And by the way, they won’t be deleting their copy of your data, and what are you going to do about it?

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s one problem. If I hadn’t mangled my earlier post, then you should be able to understand it.

If you decided to record the police with your phone, then it’s left open. So any evidence you may have of wrong doing on the phone, the officer can go through and delete without anything to back up what you say. So it may be better to have a camcorder or fight for this right in court.

Hulser (profile) says:

Misleading headline

“CA Governor Lets Police Search Your Smartphones At Traffic Stops”

As I understand it, the issue is whether the police can search someone’s cell after they’ve been arrested, not just during a traffic stop. I’m not saying that what they’re doing is OK, but based on the headline and all of the text of the post, it makes it sound like the cops are demanding that people hand over their cell phones when they get pulled over for speeding or having a tail light out.

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Misleading headline

Police may not ask for your cell phone when they stop you for speeding, but they still have the option and you never know when it will become standard operating procedure. Also, if you are arrested, there is a presumption that you have 5th amendment rights. However, when you are driving certain rights are considered to be waived.

The danger is that law enforcement will make the assumption that rights are waived and they can use the information found in your cell phone to launch additional investigations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Misleading headline

I’m pretty sure if it is on your person and they get you out of the car then they are allowed to search it, as they are allowed to search you and anything on your person for their own safety. Its a good thing the actaully get to look in the phone too because my phone is full of dangerous weapons, like an app that makes shotgun sounds, and the internet…

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re: Phone security

“””Yeah, but the average patrol officer who pulls you over for speeding isn’t going to have that sort of equipment on hand.”””

Wrong. This is just one example of the simple equipment used, there are other providers too:

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

A few questions (forgive me if I missed these in the post)

What happens if you just have a regular cell phone, not a ‘smartphone’?
When they say search, are they allowed to delete anything (video for instance) that they find and don’t like (for fear of it being used against them)?
Does this search include the memory card on your phone?
Are all officers now going to have to be trained on how to: firstly, establish what is a smartphone, and secondly, know how to operate all smartphones in existance? – Will they be wanting a payrise for this extra qualification?

Anonymous Coward says:

Yet another politician selling out the American people for “campaign contributions.”. The problems with America’s political system begin with the legalized bribery known as “lobbying.”. This country will forever be corrupt as long as politicians are able to accept gifts from anyone. Lobbying needs to be viewed as what it really is and be banned outright.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: here's an idea

The content on your phone doesn’t matter. The problem is the fact that they’re searching your phone at all, when there’s no reason to. If it is true that this is being allowed just for routine traffic stops, the fact that I’m speeding has nothing to do with what’s on my phone.
If an officer pulls me over, and I’m stupid enough to have a bag of weed sitting on my lap, then yes, they may arrest me. I am still however, entitled to a lawyer and to have my belongings searched in a legitimate manner. If I’m arrested for drug possession/speeding/whatever, as far as I can tell, the officer does not have the authority to just then and there search my phone on the spot (if I’m wrong, please correct me people). Such searches, as I understand it, come afterward, once I have access to a lawyer.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: here's an idea

There’s an even worse implication here. Let’s say that you are recording with your camera and the officer decides to arrest you. Most smartphones don’t have the ability to turn the phone off after you’re being arrested. So the officer may have unwarranted access. And what if the officer is corrupt, even the slightest?

Well, after you’re detained, he could arrest your data, implicating him! Then, practically any access you have to email, social networks, on your phone, is liable to have you jailed and the police a LOT of access to your friends and family.

This isn’t just unconstitutional, this is an invasion of privacy on untold levels.

The Incoherent One (profile) says:

Re: here's an idea

We are the government and we are here to help you?

Your statement is the classic line of someone who is willing to have his rights stripped away for what? I get pulled over for a burnt out tail like (it actually does happen) and then the officer gets to go through my phone and pull out my banking information, some CC statements,photos of my kids, my wife, access to my work e-mail, private e-mail? Its not about having something to hide. Its about its none of their god damn business.

shmengie (profile) says:

governor moonbeam

he’s turning into the worst governor ever. i have no love for the rebulicans, but gerry’s idea of fixing the state is to spend more money on entitlement programs. and, in typical dem fashion, broaden government’s powers. now that palin’s gone, alaska’s looking pretty good. just build a shack in the middle of nowhere, and hopefully get left alone.

wait…crap, isn’t that how kazinski started?

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: California ?ber Alles

Awesome !!! I have all the Dead Kennedys music.I am now 55 and still play in two punk bands.Been playin since 1972.Here is a youtube link to me playin in boston 1979.Only time The Transplants from Boston were filmed.I am the singer/founder of band.

This Governor is just the kind of man we need to throw out of Washington and tar & feather him as an example.

googly_eyes says:

Serious question

So what if I have a lock screen on my phone and refuse to unlock it?

Jerry Brown was a fool’s choice, but then, I live in a state of fools (yes California).
Somehow the state has convinced itself that it’s citizens are highly “enlightened” and should lead the rest of the country.
Fact of the matter is, it’s just as full of moral and ethical failings as any other state, and is overrun with ‘educated’ idiots.

Jesse Townley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Serious question

Are you high? It allows young illegal aliens AND legal residents who are offspring of illegal aliens to go to college to you know, better themselves.

Hmm, should we push to educate more of our residents or should we continue to isolate legal residents whose parents are illegal and young illegals?

It’s like the drive to deny drivers licenses to illegals. The result is more unlicensed drivers with no insurance.

Anonymous Coward says:

He’s a lefty democrat with the courts filled with like minded leftys, of course he wants the courts to do the heavy lifting. It’s the reason leftys want leftys on the bench. I serves the lefty will without exposing the elected leftys to unpopular laws that people do not like. This is typical legislating from the bench something the leftys are good at.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I agree his explanation is BS. The legislature was doing its job here of setting the rules so the courts could interpret them. The thing to remember is Jerry Brown used to be the AG. AGs are not well known for their love of civil liberties. They live and die by their conviction rate and so pretty rapidly, everyone starts looking like a criminal to them.

Jesse Townley (profile) says:

Cue "California Uber Alles"...

Actually, he’s been a helluvalot better than Arnold, Gray Davis, or the parade of grey-faced Republicans who preceded the Dem Gray Davis.

Is he perfect? Does he always do the right thing? Fuck no, but part of that is the ridiculously bollixed up Legislature in California.

But this decision is bullshit. He should’ve signed it and sucked up to the Police & Prison Guard unions some other way.

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