Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

State Law Seeks Greater Cell Phone Privacy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    We store our life in our cell phones.  

    Our personal photos, addresses, notes, messages, calendar, even phone numbers that we can’t recite by memory anymore because out phones remember for us.

    Sometimes it's information we don't want anyone else to see.

    Which is why State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) believes it’s necessary to legislate the issue. Senate Bill 914 would require law enforcement officers to obtain a search warrant before looking through your cell phone.

    It's no surprise that defense attorneys and civil rights advocates are ardent supporters of the measure.

    “A police search of a cell phone is akin in its intrusiveness to a search of one’s home or office,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.  

    Kerry Steigerwalt, a defense attorney in San Diego, concurs.

    “As a private citizen (this bill ) gives you peace of mind,” Steigerwalt said. “It means law enforcement can’t be snooping around in your phone for no good cause.”

    Law enforcement needs a search warrant to search through computers, and these days cell phones fall into that category, says Paul Pfingst, a former San Diego district attorney who now works as a defense lawyer.  

    It’s not that burdensome for law enforcement to get a search warrant when it's justified, he said. However, he added, the courts are establishing safeguards to protect personal privacy.

    Leno doesn't want to wait.

     “This legislation will help ensure that a simple arrest – which may or may not lead to criminal charges – is not used as a fishing expedition to obtain a person’s confidential information,” Leno said.

    The legislation is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.