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The Wright Perspective℠

Social Commentary from the C-Suite to Main Street℠

A Blog by Gary Wright II

CA Supreme Court rules cops can search cell phones without a warrant

Friday, January 7th, 2011

On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that police can search a cell phone without first having to obtain a search warrant. This ruling really disturbs me because I think it violates the Constitution, is an invasion of privacy, and has a high potential of abuse.

The case before the court involved a man who was arrested when he sold drugs to an undercover police officer. The police searched his cell phone and found text messages which they used as evidence against him. The man appealed his conviction and argued that the search violated the Fourth Amendment which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure of property. The California Supreme Court ruled against him because they considered the phone to be part of his "personal property" at the time of his arrest.

Although I don't have much sympathy for drug dealers, I really hope the US Supreme Court will hear the case and rule in his favor. This case sets a legal precedent which has huge implications for all of us. As our lives become increasingly intertwined with technology, we are carrying lots of personal (and business) information on these mobile devices. This ruling could easily apply to laptop computers, iPads, iPods, and (in the not so distant future) electronic devices implanted in our bodies.

I think the courts probably don't understand technology enough to make these rulings. If wiretapping a phone conversation requires a warrant - why wouldn't intercepting email and text messages not require one?

Justice Kathryn Werdegar issued a dissenting opinion that said, "The majority's holding (grants) police carte blanche, with no showing of exigency, to rummage at leisure through the wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee's person. The majority thus sanctions a highly intrusive and unjustified type of search, one meeting neither the warrant requirement nor the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Even if you aren't doing anything illegal - I suggest that you lock your devices with a PIN or password and always delete old messages. Email and text messages are not secure forms of communication and should be encrypted to protect any sensitive information. Within my company, we all use the OpenPGP encryption tools to protect customer information and our critical business documents. Here is a link: http://www.gnupg.org

Best regards,

-- Gary Wright II

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