Urging Gov. Brown to sign SB 914

September 22, 2011

Peter Scheer


Sitting on Governor Brown’s desk right now is SB 914, a First Amendment Coalition-sponsored bill that would restrict warrantless police searches of citizens’ cellphones. I am writing to ask you to join us in urging the Governor to sign this important safeguard of personal privacy and free speech rights.

You can read and sign the petition on the First Amendment Coalition’s website.

Why is SB 914 needed?

Imagine you are observing a demonstration and are swept up in a mass arrest of protesters. You could be a journalist, a blogger, or just an unlucky passerby. Under current law, police can seize your cell phone and, without any explanation or reason at all, search through all the megabytes of information stored there, no matter how confidential, sensitive or private.

That is the thrust of a California Supreme Court ruling, People v. Diaz, issued earlier this year. Interpreting federal legal precedents, the Court analogized a police search of a cell phone to a police search of a pack of cigarettes. But, of course, that ignores the uniquely intrusive nature of coerced disclosure, through a cell phone search, of emails, contacts, notes, photos, calendars, articles and other files comprising the digital details of one’s personal and business life.

SB 914 (text of bill), based on California state law, will reverse People v. Diaz by requiring police, following an arrest, to obtain a search warrant to search an individual’s cellphone (or other “portable electronic device”)–just as the police would have to do for a search of files located in your office desk or your bedroom. A warrant requirement assures that searches of such intrusiveness will be subject to judicial supervision.

This will not unduly hamper police work. Under SB 914, police would have authority to hold a suspect’s cell phone, protecting against the deletion of files, while they arrange for a search warrant. And in genuine emergencies police would have the power to search a cell phone immediately, without a warrant (what lawyers refer to as “exigent circumstances”).

SB 914, introduced by Senator Leno (D-San Francisco), is not a “liberal” bill or a “conservative” bill. Sponsored by California Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the ACLU–in addition to the First Amendment Coalition–SB 914 was enacted with bipartisan majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. Nonetheless, you will not be shocked to learn that law enforcement interests oppose SB 914.

Their oversized clout in Sacramento is presumably why Governor Brown remains officially undecided.

That’s why I am asking you to let Governor Brown know today that you want him to sign SB 914. Please take a minute now to sign the First Amendment Coalition’s petition.

Peter Scheer, a lawyer and journalist, is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition (FAC). The views expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the FAC Board of Directors.



  1. oto says:

    Hell! Cellphone, schmellphone! Ruth Bader Ginsberg just sided with the Supreme Court majority to allow police officers to enter a house on a WARRANTLESS SEARCH WITHOUT HAVING TO EVEN KNOCK AND ANNOUCE THEMSELVES! My faith in Ginsberg was lost when she voted to approve the taking of private land to benefit the contractor, rather than in the public interest. Then, she voted with the majority to support the judgment that prisoners were “not entitled to access lawbooks” to prepare their defense. When she supported the idea that officers don’t even have to knock and announce themselves on a warrantless search of a house, I came to the conclusion that she should no longer be sitting on the bench.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. Cindy says:

    “in genuine emergencies police would have the power to search a cell phone immediately, without a warrant (what lawyers refer to as “exigent circumstances”).”

    “exigent circumstances” – Oh yes many of us know what that is, we viewed a police video tape of a live genuine emergency where “exigent circumstances” were cited. It was the day that the SLOSD deputies had to break into Matt Hearts gun cabinet because he had been legally target practicing on his property . The deputies wanted to be certain that he hadn’t shot someone and hid them in that 8″ deep cabinet. While the LEO were at it ,they admired his guns, talked about which ones they wanted, then they took them !! The DA never gave them back until CCN posted the video and CALGUNS spotted it and offered to provide Matt with an attorney.

    Matt got his guns back the very next day after CCN posted the video, complete with the deputies colluding to justify their actions for pulling what they decided was a “Ferman” do to “exigent circumstances” .

    On my way to sign the petition.

    (7) 7 Total Votes - 7 up - 0 down
  3. standup says:

    Many of the law enforcement around here don’t give a darn about civil rights. We have seen them follow people to their homes and beat the crap out of people. We have cops that lie to doctors to go and bust people following state law. We have cops that lie to judges in affidavits, we have sheriffs that have no respect for state law…………………What we need are some personal lawsuits that take the homes of these riffraffs to teach them to at least respect the civil rights of the people who contribute to your salary. The good ole boys club has got to end.

    (6) 10 Total Votes - 8 up - 2 down
    • choprzrul says:

      What you seek is enumerated in California’s Civil Code. If we had Attorney Generals that served the people rather than worrying about re-election, maybe something would get done. For your review, CA Civil Code 52.3:

      (a) No governmental authority, or agent of a governmental
      authority, or person acting on behalf of a governmental authority,
      shall engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement
      officers that deprives any person of rights, privileges, or
      immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the
      United States or by the Constitution or laws of California.
      (b) The Attorney General may bring a civil action in the name of
      the people to obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to
      eliminate the pattern or practice of conduct specified in subdivision
      (a), whenever the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe
      that a violation of subdivision (a) has occurred.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  4. Typoqueen says:

    This shouldn’t even be in question. I hope this bill gets signed.

    (5) 7 Total Votes - 6 up - 1 down
    • choprzrul says:

      Every once in a while, I agree with Typoqueen. This is one of those instances. I concur with her above statement.

      (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  5. r0y says:

    I am absolutely appalled by the dramatic loss of freedoms, guaranteed by the Constitution, that we have incurred over the past 20 years or so. Democrat or Republican, it does not matter, we constantly lose rights (frogs in pots of water come to mind).

    I hope this is signed. It does not tie the cops hands, as they can still request warrants (which are often easy to get – a whole different subject for discussion). I will sign this.

    (8) 10 Total Votes - 9 up - 1 down
  6. CA Native says:

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” ~ Amendment IV, U.S. Constitution

    (11) 17 Total Votes - 14 up - 3 down
  7. SloTownMan says:

    The police can check my cell phone at any time, I do nothing wrong and obviously have nothing to hide. What are you afraid of Peter? No need to take tools out of the police hands to catch the bad guys.

    (-7) 15 Total Votes - 4 up - 11 down
    • r0y says:

      NOT the right answer, citizen!

      (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
    • mkaney says:

      Let me guess, your a middle-aged white man (probably a teenager in the 1950s)who votes Republican, has an occasional drink, but have never smoked marijuana You are married, or have been, with between 1 and 4 children. You attend church regularly. . Not that any of this is bad at all, but my point is, that of course they can check your cell phone any time, because they WON’T, they work for you, and support the laws YOU think should be in place, and they are polite to you in all interactions you have had with them.

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down

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