In a brilliant display of unabashed technological ignorance, the California Supreme Court decided on Jan. 3rd, 2011, that police can search a person's cell phone without a court warrant.
OMG!! Sorry...gasping for air. Give me just... a... sec. Okay..... No, wait.... Okay, okay, I'm back.
First, you have to understand that the modern day cell phone is, in every manner that matters, a personal computer. Today's smartphone is a massive hard drive that holds a tremendous amount of private, intimate information ranging from texts and pictures to emails and a history of one's favorite websites. To invade such terrain without probable cause is to invade the very core of a citizen.
Think about it. Police cannot enter your home without a warrant, and yet our smartphones often contain far more intimate information and data about who we are and what we hold dear than our own homes, and all of it is organized, tabbed and otherwise marked with our approval.
My point? My point is that having access to a person's phone in 2011 without the need of a proper search warrant is no different than having the right to invade a person's home, flipping over a mattress, leafing through books and photo albums, and replaying messages left on one's answering machine.
So what prompted this California Supreme Court Ruling? A few years ago, Gregory Diaz was pulled over in Ventura County, California, and was detained by police for suspicion of having been involved in an ectacy drug deal. The police arrested Diaz and took his belongings, including his cell phone. Upon searching the cell phone the Ventura County Sheriff's Department discovered an incriminating text message. When presented with the text, Diaz plead guilty.
Diaz took his case to trial, arguing that the search of his cell phone was an unlawful violation of his Fourth Amendment Right (Protection against unlawful searches and seizures). He lost. Appeals to the higher courts ended when the California Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling.
Bear in mind that this blatant violation of an individual's rights happened in California, the same state that wants to remove toys from McDonald's Happy Meals. Still, it sets a dangerous precedent in law that can have significant reverberations moving forward.
What strikes me most about this ruling is how fabulously ensconced in the dark ages the justices must be in failing to understand that smartphones in 2011 are a far different thing than cell phones from even a few years ago. Courts need to be more cognizant and savvy regarding modern personal technology. If authorities cannot open one's briefcase without a warrant, but can search your cell phone, then that tells me everything I need to know about the lack of tech-sense in the courts.
Personal technology is part of the new century. Courts need to catch up to the curve and realize that the Fourth Amendment does indeed include a whole swath of new devices that people hold dear, and nothing short of a valid court order should allow authorities to peek inside.