California Governor vetos bill that would have shielded citizens from warrantless cellphone searches

California governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that required the police to get a warrant before searching a telephone. Without this law, California's police will continue their practice of searching the cellphones of people they arrest, "which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and even where the phone has traveled."

Brown blamed the Supreme Court, which found that current US laws don't protect against this sort of snooping, saying that the court's finding should stand. But all courts can do is tell you whether or not something is legal in the current system -- it's not their job to say what the law should be.

That's the legislature's job, and they did it: California's lawmakers passed this bill because deep, intrusive snooping without a warrant is an affront to human rights, privacy and dignity. In Brown's view, it seems that no laws should be passed -- rather, we should just freeze the current legislation and let courts refine it for the rest of time.

Brown’s veto message abdicated responsibility for protecting the rights of Californians and ignored calls from civil liberties groups and this publication to sign the bill — saying only that the issue is too complicated for him to make a decision about. He cites a recent California Supreme Court decision upholding the warrantless searches of people incident to an arrest. In his brief message, he also doesn’t say whether it’s a good idea or not.

Instead, he says the state Supreme Court’s decision is good enough, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand last week.

“The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections,” the governor wrote.

Because of that January ruling from the state’s high court, the California Legislature passed legislation to undo it — meaning Brown is taking the side of the Supreme Court’s seven justices instead of the state Legislature. The Assembly approved the bill 70-0 and the state Senate, 32-4.

(Image: IMG_2787, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kristina06's photostream)


  1. “But all courts can do is tell you whether or not something is legal in
    the current system — it’s not their job to say what the law should be. ”

    It’s not their job to draft legislation, but it very much is their place to make suggestions as to what laws need to be doing. It’s how the Mass Supreme Court in 2003 “recommended” that the legislature fix something, yielding marriage equality in the Commonwealth. IANAL.

  2. There has been so much anti-hippy sentiment on the internets since Occupy Wall Street and I really thought that it was out of line but when Governor Moonbeam blantantly supports 1984 style police control, than I say screw those dirty hippies.

    1. Blame the hippies? Sure, why not! Brown is just as much a hippie as Charles Manson and Sonny Bono were.

      Good thing we never elected Brown president: the suede-denim secret-police would be going door-to-door — rapture! be-pure! — smiling and searching our cell-phones.

      1. Rats…when I saw the headline I was hoping to be the one to make this ‘suede denim’ reference first. 

        It seems bizarre at first, but doesn’t as much considering JB has been a politician for most of his life. Also, DK must have wrote the song for a reason, right?

      2. Good thing we never elected Brown president: the suede-denim secret-police would be going door-to-door — rapture! be-pure! — smiling and searching our cell-phones.

        Is this the same Governor Jerry Brown?!


    2. What’s Jerry Brown got to do with the OWS protesters?  Or is this some kind of weird sarcasm?  All the hippies I know would think this is bulls**t.

  3. So what’s the chance of the legislature overriding the veto? It seems to me that they have the votes, assuming there’s a provision in the CA Constitution for it.

  4. First thing that comes to mind EVERY TIME Jerry Brown does anything stupid (like, once a week!) is Mrs. Harriet Johnson reading her letter to Governor Lepetomaine in Blazing Saddles, particularly the last sentence.

    1. Seems to me that California needs  regime change as bad as the whole country.

      Yeah, let’s have another recall. Maybe we could have Governor Lindsay Lohan this time.

      1. Oh, man. Can we have the younger cute version? Before she got all burnt out looking?

        Yeah. I think the process of mounting recall elections should be simpler. But then, I’m also in favour of term limits.

  5. What an interesting, boneheaded decision.
    So, lazywebs, is there an app for “delete all data I’m being arrested?”

  6. That’s the legislature’s job, and they did it: California’s lawmakers passed this bill because deep, intrusive snooping without a warrant is an affront to human rights, privacy and dignity.

    Intrusive snooping is an affront to human rights, privacy and dignity. But I guess I’ve become jaded enough to ask: are the CA legislators enlightened enough to realize this and make it the “because,” or is there some more mundane, ulterior reason they supported it?

    1. Like text messaging hookers for filthy sex.
      Or texting a fixer to clean up the body of the dead hooker they just had sex with.
      Or texting a drug dealer to purchase drugs to wash away the small feeling of guilt they have for disposing of a dead hooker’s body.

  7. Gov Brown refused to pass the law because it violated the court’s interpretation of FEDERAL law.  He is essentially saying this a federal not a state issue.

    1. He is saying that, but he is incorrect, because the 4th amendment very much restricts states from searching and seizing unreasonably and without warrants.  At least that’s what the 14th amendment thinks.

    2. @anonymity86: You’re confused. First, There is no federal law, there is only a state court’s interpretation of the US Constitution. Laws trump court opinion, unless the law violates state or US constitution. Second, the US constitution is a baseline of protection, not a limit; states are free to create higher standards of protection if they choose, provided they don’t violate the US constitution in some other way. Third this is not a federal issue, except perhaps as it might apply to federal agents enforcing federal crimes.

      Brown’s refusal to sign is simply an abdication of his responsibility to create and enforce laws on a local level that protect the citizens of California. One might disagree about anther it’s a good idea, but there is no disagreement that the law was within his power to sign, or that it would have been a valid law.

      It’s also important to note that just because the US Supreme Court refused to take up the issue doesn’t mean they agree with the interpretation by the state court; the US Supreme Court only takes up cases after a pattern of decisions has emerged where there is disgreement between the districts or confusion in the law. The US Supreme Court may very well take up this issue in a few years, once there are more cases on which to base on opinion.

  8. According to wikipedia, a two-thirds vote is required to overturn a veto in California. They have the votes already, let’s just hope they have the balls.

  9. But boy there were sure a crapload of other laws he had no problem signing. I guess they were more important stuff.

  10. This is not a big deal, I think. If I had an address book in my pocket they could look through it. We’re at a transitional phase when people keep their personal information on phones but aren’t careful/paranoid enough to encrypt it or put it all into the cloud.

    In a year every android/iOS/winOS device will let you keep all your vital data on the cloud, and encrypt everything local. They’ll have to, or they’ll never sell another device to a law firm.

  11. I think people are confusing different situations here… there’s the kind of thing where a cop asks if they can search you or your vehicle after you were stopped for some other reason, and when you are actually under arrest. If you consent to a search of your vehicle and/or your person the cops are looking for drugs, guns ,etc… they can’t search your phone: there’s no probable cause or reason to believe those kind of things could be in there.

    If you have been arrested, and they are taking items off you, then it might be a different story.

    If you have an iPhone and you are truly paranoid, set a passcode, and set the phone to “erase all content and settings” if the passcode is entered incorrectly 10 times.

    If you are arrested, the police cannot search your phone without knowing the passcode. Inform the officer that you will not divulge the passcode without a warrant, that data protected by the passcode is not in plain sight, and repeated attempts to guess it will destroy the data. Legally it is the same as having a locked container in your vehicle. The contents are not in plain sight, and the police have to get a warrant to open it.

    You COULD also quickly wipe your phone if you think you might get arrested, and/or have the person you make your  “one phone call” to do a remote wipe, but you will probably get charged with destroying evidence or obstruction.

    Bonus: Thinks like the CellBrite UFED aren’t carried by traffic cops, and aren’t used without a warrant, but forensic devices still cannot dump an iPhone without knowing the passcode, unless the police have access to a computer the phone is synced with (assuming the disk is not encrypted… if you have the need to  passcode your phone, encrypt your laptop too!).

  12. I am very confused by JB vetoeing this bill as well as many of the other bills that he signed…  I voted for him to advance civil rights, not attack them.  But perhaps he is playing checkers and not chess… perhaps he is trying to create a circuit split and get this 4A thing worked out a little better.

    I still have a hope for JB.

  13. “Now it is 1984. Knock-knock at your front door. It’s the suede denim secret police.They’ve come for your uncool niece.”

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