California recently joined states like Montana, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine in establishing clear protection for personal information stored on laptops, tablets, and cellphones. In the past, information stored on a cellphone or other device could be searched by law enforcement without a warrant or wiretap order and used in criminal cases. Just this month, however, the California State Senate approved a bill that would place restrictions on access to digitally stored personal information and would require in most cases that law enforcement obtain a search warrant prior to access.
Access to information stored digitally, including locational information, has been a complicated issue in the past for both California and the United States as a whole. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the issue, leading to a mess of certain states that require warrants, and many that do not. California law enforcement, prior to this recent bill’s approval, was able to access any personal information, including sent and received text messages and emails. In the past, law enforcement officials would be required to obtain a search warrant for a person’s physical mailbox, but not for their emails or text messages.
The recently passed bill, SB 178, was approved unanimously by the California Senate. Its creator, Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, had introduced a similar bill a couple of years ago that was vetoed, but has found success with this new law. As expected, there are some exceptions written into the law. A warrant will not be required if an individual gives prior consent to searching a device. Law enforcement officials will also be granted an exception if access to personal information is necessary for emergency situations or situations where severe harm or death is possible.
While the bill is supported by tech giants like Twitter, Google, and Facebook, many California law enforcement officials believe the bill will hinder investigations and cause problems. Those opposed say the bill will force the destruction of potentially helpful information and undermine investigative efforts, including efforts to stop child exploitation.
Until the Supreme Court makes a ruling on this issue, anyone’s private information stored on a cellphone, computer, or tablet could still potentially be used against them in a legal situation. If you believe this is the case for you or anyone else, seeking the help of a qualified Santa Clara County criminal defense attorney can be beneficial. Contact the Law Offices of Thomas Nicholas Cvietkovich today at (408) 898-9770.