The California Supreme court recently ruled that warrants are not necessary for law enforcement officials to search cell phones for evidence if they are found on your person.
In addition, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that government employers could read transcripts of employee e-mails, text messages, instant messages and other communications without having to worry about the 4th Amendment.
For those that need a refresher course, the 4th Amendment states 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.
So what do these rulings have to do with residents of Georgia? Precedent and excuse.
While every state differs slightly in criminal and civil law, it isn't uncommon for states to take cues from their neighbors in setting up policies.
Some people might argue that all sorts of crime related evidence--drug paraphernalia and the like are found in people's vehicles during pullovers and later used in evidence without the need for warrants. In this case, I have to argue that cell phones and other personal electronic devices are different.
The first reason: It simply isn't that hard for an investigator to get a search warrant.
The danger for unnecessary invasions of privacy is just too great. Personal information, pictures, contact numbers and in some cases confidential information can all be found on these devices.
If an investigator feels that information crucial to a case may be present on personal computer, he or she needs only to call a judge to have a warrant issued. The warrant is usually available within minutes.
The same requirements need to be enforced for cell phones and other devices found on a person. Getting a warrant will not inhibit any legitimate investigation, but because it requires direct action and permission, it will prevent someone from simply going someone's personal effects out of curiosity.
The second reason: The Bill of Rights was not meant to only protect you when it's convenient for the government.
Privacy is one of the cornerstones of free speech. One of my coworkers, Melody Dareing, recently wrote about this issue in her Anonymous blogging series.
If government (or private sector for that matter) employees are spending their time on Facebook at work rather than doing their jobs, they should be fired, no warrant needed.
It's different if they are using personal devices to discuss things about their jobs or anything else, especially if its on their own time.
Denying workers privacy in those situations prevents would prevent whistle blowers from exposing corruption as well as basic Free Speech rights.
If an agency suspects that an employee is discussion confidential information, a traditional investigation--and warrant should be sufficient to determine if their was any actual wrong-doing.
The government and law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to protect the public, and I want them to have every necessary tool available to do their jobs. But we all have a responsibility to question whether or not a tool really is necessary. To quote one of my favorite cliches, "it's a slippery slope."