Privacy Law

ACLU suit: Rights of contacts are violated when police search arrestees' cell phones


The American Civil Liberties Union is taking a new tack in a suit challenging police searches of arrestees’ cell phones.

The California Supreme Court ruled in the 2011 case People v. Diaz that arrestees’ Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution are not violated by police searches of their cell phones, report Wired, the San Francisco Examiner, the Associated Press and an ACLU press release. The ACLU suit (PDF) contends the cell phone searches violate the rights not only of arrestees but also of their friends and contacts whose information is contained in the phones.

This suit claims violations of the California Constitution’s guarantees of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, as well as violations of the right to free speech and freedom of association under the U.S. and California Constitutions.

The ACLU sued Wednesday on behalf of homeless activist Bob Offer-Westort, arrested in January 2012 for setting up a tent during a protest at Jane Warner Plaza in San Francisco. The suit contends an officer scrolled through Offer-Westort’s text messages after his arrest, reading some of them aloud.

Offer-Westort said in the press release that he was worried that some of his community relationships could be harmed if his private text messages were made public.

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